Though exercising normally makes you feel superhuman, when you’re sidelined with a cold, flu, or migraine, crushing your regular workout can either make you feel awesome or absolutely miserable.
So should you banish germs and pain with a sweat sesh or bury yourself under the covers with your favorite guilty pleasures playlist?
Today we’ll help you learn when you have a legit reason to skip your workout and when you need to stop making excuses and get your butt in gear.
Let’s start with something you’re bound to encounter at least once this year: the common cold.
Check your symptoms before yoga class schedules when you have a coldIs it ok to exercise when you have a cold?
Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., tells the Mayo Clinic that you can usually work out when you have a cold as long as your symptoms are all “above the neck”, such as:
Exercising actually does wonders if you’ve become a mouthbreather thanks to your cold.
“If your sinuses are plugged up, walking will stimulate you to take deep breaths and can help open up those passages," Richard Besser, MD, chief health and medical editor at ABC News, explains to Health.
But there’s a catch when you have a cold: You don’t want to push yourself too hard or get into full on beast mode when you’re not back at 100 yet.
As Maia Appleby writes for Bodybuilding.com:
“High intensity exercise such as heavy weight lifting or high intensity aerobic training has been shown to have a negative impact on the immune system during a cold or any respiratory infection.”
See, these butt-kickers put your body through (healthy) stress so you adapt and build strength. Unfortunately, when your immune system is already struggling and working hard to defend your body against germ warfare, leg day redirects your body’s energy production to your muscles instead of giving your immunity the backup and reinforcement it needs.
So if you’re looking to kick your cold and not add LBs while you’re Netflixing and recovering on the couch, choose light, low-impact activities to get your body moving.
Best exercises to do when you have a cold:
Worst exercises to do when you have a cold:
While you’ll probably battle a few colds every year, you probably won’t experience the flu more than once (cross your fingers). So how do you deal when the flu takes your activity levels hostage?
Exercise extreme caution when you have the flu Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a cold and the flu because the symptoms tend to overlap so darn much.
Typically, you’ll experience “above the chest” symptoms of the common cold, but you’ll also get hit with “below the chest” symptoms, which can include:
If you’re feeling anything on this list of unpleasant symptoms, consider it a major red flag warning against strenuous activity.
First, exercise demands a steady supply of oxygen to burn calories. You know why trainers are always yelling at you to breathe during your reps or classes?
According to Jordan Shakeshaft’s tips for breathing through every type of exercise:
“Smooth and efficient breathing is crucial for delivering the oxygen our bodies need to perform functions properly. Proper breathing can also help athletes exercise longer with less effort, nix side stitches, and even calm the mind.”
Bad news: Chest congestion makes it a little hard to give your muscles all the oxygen they need since you can barely breathe easily when you’re at rest. How are you supposed to inhale deeply for morning sun salutations or make it more than two minutes on the treadmill? You can’t.
More importantly, when it comes to working out during the flu, you should NEVER exercise when you have a fever.
“Your heart rate becomes elevated with a fever, and exercise can put too much strain on your heart. In some cases it can lead to heart failure. You also have a higher risk of becoming dehydrated when you have a fever, and exercising exacerbates that risk,” Maria Christensen pens for Livestrong.
Not only is this a dangerous situation to begin with, you’ll also prolong your sickness if you work out when your temperatures reach the fever zone (+100° F).
When your body has a fever, it’s telling you straight up that it’s working hard to combat the flu virus invading your insides. What’s the best remedy when you have the flu?
Sleep, more rest, and plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids.
Plus, Linda Melone, C.S.C.S., reminds readers via Men’s Fitness that when you have the flu, you’re contagious for the first five to seven days. Seriously, please stay at home and get better for all our sake.
Can you really sweat out a cold or flu? Here’s the truth:You’ve probably heard that you can sweat out the “toxins” that caused your cold or flu in the first place. #SorryNotSorry, this is a major myth.
See, sweating causes your body to become dehydrated (bad already), which dries out the mucous membranes in your respiratory tract. This makes your congestion, sinus, and throat symptoms much worse.
Stay hydrated with the right beverages to help loosen congestion, soothe your sore throat, and replenish what you lose from fever sweats.
Never skip a workout if you suffer from migraines (seriously, don’t)There’s literally nothing worse than a grueling workout when your head is pounding too hard for you to even open your eyes and pack your gym bag. Since migraines can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (fun!), they can really wreak havoc with your exercise regime.
As much as you’d rather lie down with a cold compress on your head, exercise is the best remedy for short- and long-term migraine relief.
We all know that exercise releases chemicals called endorphins. These guys are your body’s natural pain relievers.
Endorphins minimize your perception of pain by locking into special receptor cells and blocking the transmission of pain signals. This produces a euphoric feeling similar to what you’d experience on opiates, Tom Scheve describes for the Science section of How Stuff Works.
Nabih Ramadan, MD, a neurologist at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, and chair of the National Headache Foundation (NHF) Education and Biomedical Research Committee, says the cure to fewer migraines may be a daily dose of exercise.
Ramadan mentions a study of over 69,000 people in Norway which found that:
So commit to working out at least 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week if you want fewer migraines in your future.
Best exercises for migraine sufferers:
Avoid anything too jarring to your body when you’re in the middle of a migraine. These activities may aggravate your pain and prolong your suffering.
Try to stay away from activities that cause you to sweat too much as well; dehydration makes migraines worse.
Worst exercises for when you have a migraine:
You may be out of your gym clothes and in pajamas for a week to 10 days when you have a cold, but a flu can keep you out of active commission for as many as two to three weeks, depending on how hard your body gets hit.
Even though you may feel back to normal, working out too hard or too early and prolonging the recovery phase will only drag out your illness (and may lead to more serious complications) instead of curing it.
After you beat your cold or flu, ease back into your workouts and start with 50–75% of your regular intensity/time. So instead of running for 30 minutes, try walking for 20; or do two reps instead of five, for example.
Migraine sufferers should create and stick to a strict exercise schedule to constantly produce pain-relieving endorphins and minimize the frequency of attacks.
Don’t wait too long after your recovery to start sweating again. A 2011 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that people who regularly exercise experience milder cold and flu symptoms than those who don’t work out and they also recover faster when they do get sick. #win
So to get back on your workout grind, use this helpful infographic to find the best cold and flu remedies and heal your body the right way ASAP: