Alarm clock sounds. You stir, momentarily transitioning from the depths of that moment’s parallel universe and fumble to find the OFF button. As your eyes begin to focus on the surrounding reality, you take your first swallow. Sandpaper must’ve crept into your mouth while you slept. A slight but unmistakable pain surfaces before you even notice the swollen lymph nodes that have invaded both sides of your neck. You suddenly break into a cold sweat; maybe a consequential symptom related to the rest, or maybe the stark realization of your immediate condition triggers it. If you’re anything like me, your first thought is, Dammit, I do not have time for this, followed by, Really, I bet I can still get my workout in. I’ll rest later.
Question is, should you tough it out? Or stay in bed?
Here’s the thing: not all colds are created equally. While some degrees of illness might be more irritating than debilitating, some bodies are better able to adapt and remain fully functional. Let’s try to quiet the noise of misinformation out there and weigh the pros and cons ourselves.
When you should not exercise with a cold:
- You have an accompanying fever
- You are coughing uncontrollably
- You are vomiting and/or have diarrhea
Most physicians agree that exercising while sick is generally okay, as long as you listen to your body and adapt accordingly. An abbreviated strength training session or a post-meal walk can actually give your immune system a boost, enabling your body to fight back. An Ironman challenge? Probably not. Dr. Andrea Hulse, a family practitioner from Maryland says, “In general, regular exercise stimulates the immune system and helps keep us healthy. But too much regular exercise at a high intensity can have the opposite effect.”
What about those around us? Aren’t we risking their health by sitting next to them in spin class? Consider this: during exercise, our immune system is temporarily weakened due to the production of cortisol and adrenaline. If those (healthy) immune systems around you are momentarily compromised, then you are upping their chances for catching whatever funk ails you. You may as well just share your water bottle and towel while you’re at it. The better option for all involved is for you to skip the gym and get your exercise at home. If you absolutely must go to the gym while under the weather, go solo. Save the group class for another day. Wipe down any equipment you use, and wash your hands thoroughly when finished.
I know that this time of year presents a unique challenge, especially in Colorado. The weather is up and down and very unpredictable, and we’re all in our fitness groove; both as an oath to our resolutions and in anticipation for summer. Don’t worry too much, though. If you are still in the game at this point, then I find it doubtful a common cold will deter you in the long run. Just get better. The gym will be there when you get back.
Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]