Working Out With a Cold: It’s Nothing to Sneeze At

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
You feel it coming on, the sore throat, the sniffling. That first loud sneeze makes it official: you have a cold. You would really love to stay in bed and rest rather than go to the gym. Now rest is a great thing, no doubt about it. But sometimes it can cause you to lose your hard earned training groove. But you’ve also heard the advice not to work out with a cold. So what do you do? I’m going to help you take the guess work out of it right now.
The first thing you have to determine is whether you have just a cold or the flu. Numerous doctors say it’s okay to go ahead and work out, as long as you are only suffering with a cold. In fact a recent study sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine found exercising moderately while you have a cold does not affect the severity or duration of the symptoms. During the study researchers injected 50 moderately fit volunteers with cold germs and divided them into two groups: exercising and non-exercising. Over a ten day period each volunteer kept a daily log of their physical activity. The exercise group worked out for 40 minutes every day by either running, using a stepper or biking, at no more than seventy percent of their maximum capacity. After the study, researchers looked at their symptom severity and mucus measurement. They found there was no significant difference in the symptom severity or duration in the exercise group compared to the group that did not exercise. The study determined that exercising at a moderate rate does not increase the intensity of cold symptoms or compromise the immune system.
BUT-previous studies have found that high intensity exercise such as weight lifting or high intensity aerobic exercise can have a negative impact on the immune system. Because it can be very difficult to tell whether you have the flu or just a cold, a small group of doctors still strictly advise you to avoid exercise completely while suffering with a cold. “We wouldn’t even think of suggesting that men who are sick should be vigorously exercising,” says Dr. David Neiman of Appalachian State University. Neiman cites lab studies showing that strenuous exercise can weaken the immune system. Yet no one has proven that minimal changes in the immune system will have a significant influence on the common cold. There does not, however, appear to be any studies on the healing rates of athletes suffering from colds who choose to work out, versus those who prescribe to a complete rest.
So how do you determine whether you’re too sick to exercise? Definitely if you’re suffering from more than just a cold, if you’re suffering with the flu, you should throw in the towel for now. The flu is a far different consideration for the man who exercises. The common cold more or less remains in the cells lining your nose, but the flu and flu-like viruses can invade muscles, and even invade the lining of your heart. Such heart infections can be very serious, even deadly.
So how do you know the difference? If your symptoms are all from the neck up, sneezing, scratchy throat, mucus free cough, slight sinus headache-you more than likely just have a cold. In that case, go to the gym as usual, but take caution. Don’t work out with maximum intensity. If you feel okay after the first ten minutes of exercise, continue your regimen in a moderate fashion. If you don’t feel great, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you do continue to exercise, make sure you drink plenty of fluids so you don’t dehydrate.
About 200 separate viruses can cause the common cold. But certain flu viruses can also cause cold-like symptoms. So it’s sometimes hard to determine whether you’re suffering with more than just a cold. Here’s a tip. Draw an imaginary line across your neck, you already know cold symptoms are from the neck up, if you have any symptoms below that line, from the neck down-especially vomiting, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite or a cough that produces mucus-you could be suffering with the flu and should avoid exercise, until the infection is gone.
As a genuine exercise enthusiast, it’s time for you to confront the issue of colds versus workouts. Draw that imaginary line, carefully check your symptoms, make a realistic assessment of your condition and make a decision accordingly and most importantly, don’t over do it! Remember nothing is impossible, even good health. Because all I want for you and your family is to seize the moment of each and every day.
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