Can You Sweat Out A Cold? What Happens If You Work Out When Sick
To work out or not to work out… We get it, it’s a common internal dilemma that can pop up at any time of year, but particularly when you feel the symptoms of a cold coming on or are fighting off a case of the sniffles. Sometimes you might even feel like training when you’re under the weather. But will working out boost your health and immunity and help ease your symptoms? Or will it actually make you feel a million times worse?
Here’s what you need to know!
The ‘above the neck’ recommendation
The Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic and American Lung Association all give the same guidance when it comes to whether or not you should work out when unwell. If your symptoms are above the neck - think sore throat, tickly cough, runny nose or sneezing - you’re generally okay to exercise at a low to moderate intensity.
If you have symptoms below the neck, such as chest congestion, a hacking cough, fever, fatigue, upset stomach or aches, your best bet is to hit pause on your exercise routine and rest up - even more so if you have any preexisting health conditions. These are all signs that your body is fighting off an infection, and rest is exactly what you need to heal as fast as possible.
If you have returned a positive Covid-19 test or are experiencing symptoms of Covid, the advice is to take the time to rest and recover and then embrace a phased return to physical activity, even if you’re asymptomatic or your symptoms are quite mild.
Keep in mind, if your symptoms are above the neck but you don’t feel up to exercising, you should never feel any pressure to work out or exercise at your usual level of intensity if you do decide to get moving. Listen to your body and make a decision that feels supportive of your health and energy levels.
Don’t worry, resting for a few days (or even weeks) won’t significantly impact your fitness level or progress, and will ensure you can power ahead towards your fitness goals, rather than setting yourself back further or risking developing a more serious illness.
Be considerate of the people around you
Should you feel up to exercising, despite having the sniffles or a sore throat, there is no grey area when it comes to this rule - look out for the people around you by working out solo until you have recovered and your symptoms have subsided.
The last thing you want to do is pass your bugs on to someone else, so avoid the gym, public pools (especially if you’ve got gastrointestinal issues), run clubs, team sports, group fitness classes and sessions with your workout buddy.
If you’re used to training with or around other people and still want to get moving, this could be a nice time to mix up your routine with a morning walk or some at-home workouts! There are plenty of low-intensity and Express workout options available in the Sweat app to make it easy to dial things back.
Can you sweat out a cold?
The short answer - nope. This is a pretty common fitness myth. While many of us may have experienced that full-good endorphin rush that comes after a tough workout while feeling under the weather, you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that “sweating it out” has helped.
While light exercise can provide relief from symptoms such as congestion, there is unfortunately no evidence to support the idea of “sweating out a cold”, and often your symptoms return or even worsen the next day. The Cleveland Clinic also says although it’s true that exercise is beneficial for your immune system, this is a cumulative effect over time, not something you gain straight after each workout.
Sweating too much can also increase your risk of dehydration and fatigue, making your cold or flu symptoms worse. All the more reason to take it easy!
As the American Lung Association explains, many people with a common cold claim to feel better after light exercise and notice improvement in symptoms. If you’re choosing to move your body, the key is to make sure you’re well hydrated - before, during and after your exercise session.
Staying hydrated helps your body to regulate its temperature, prevent bacteria from entering the body, reduce nasal irritation, and improve cognitive function. Because exercising generally involves an increased rate of sweat and breathing, it naturally increases your risk of dehydration. Keep a water bottle on hand, take regular sips, and definitely reschedule those hot yoga sessions for another time!
Listen to your body
Whether you’re working out or not, listening to your body is paramount when you’re feeling unwell and you should seek advice from your doctor if you’re unsure on the best course of action. When it comes to movement, listening to your body might look like:
- Taking complete rest and not exercising at all
- Reducing the intensity, duration or frequency of your exercise sessions
- Starting your usual workout, but then realising you don’t feel up to it and cutting it short or switching to something easier
- Using the exercise substitution feature in the Sweat app to switch out an exercise
- Using the On Demand feature in the Sweat app to find short workouts
- Choosing training styles like yoga, stretching or Pilates over HIIT and heavy lifting
- Avoiding workouts or training styles that make you sweaty to avoid dehydration
- Prioritising fresh air and time in nature with gentle walks outside.
Working out isn’t going to speed up your recovery from a cold or flu, just as taking a break to rest isn’t going to set you back on your fitness journey. We’re in this for the long game and your health is most important, so don’t be afraid to take your foot off the gas, see your doctor for advice and only resume your usual workout schedule once you’re back to full health.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.