Should you exercise with a cold?
It depends on the type of cold you have, as Prudence Wade discovers
It’s that wretched time of year when getting a cold feels almost inevitable, as your colleagues, friends and family get struck down one-by-one with the sniffles.
It’s called the ‘common’ cold for good reason — but just how much does a cold have to get in the way of your regular routine?
We’re talking specifically about exercise. You might want to continue with your gym schedule as normal — after all, colds aren’t generally a serious ailment — but is it wiser to rest?
“For the most part, exercise helps to keep us healthy and boosts our immune system against all kinds of diseases,” says Dr Diana Gall of Doctor4U.
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But there are exceptions of course, and sometimes taking a rest is just what the doctor ordered. So what’s the deal with colds?
What type of cold do you have?
According to Gall, this is important: do you have a head cold or a chesty cold?
A head cold has “symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose”, she says, while the chest version involves “a chesty cough, body aches and a raised temperature”. (You might, of course, have both if you’re really unlucky).
With a head cold, Gall says: “It’s usually safe to carry on with exercise, even if you need to lower the intensity while you’re under the weather.
“If you’re suffering from a chesty cold, working out could worsen your symptoms and make you feel even more unwell, as well as putting you at risk of injury, so a rest in these circumstances can often be better than a workout.”
Don’t overdo it
Even if you are safe to go to the gym as normal, it’s probably not advisable to lift your heaviest weights or go on a 10km run.
“You should avoid straining yourself too much — keep your exercise routine lighter than usual and take note of your symptoms day by day,” Gall recommends.
“If you wake up feeling much worse than the day before, or have developed any additional symptoms, it would be wise to avoid the gym until you start feeling better.
“The good news is that ‘exercise’ is a broad term,” she adds. “If you usually go running or do cardio workouts at the gym, it’s probably not the best idea to carry on with these whilst you’re ill. But lower-intensity exercises, such as going on a walk, some basic yoga, or resistance band training could keep you active even while you have a cold.”
It’s also important not to dive straight back into an intense regime as soon as your symptoms clear up.
“If you exercise regularly and take some time off due to illness, try and ease back into your routine with the same amount of time you took off,” Gall says. “For example, if you took five days off due to illness, spend five days easing in and working back up to your normal routine.”
Ease back gently
If you’ve had a sickness-induced break, it’s also a good idea to introduce some mobility stretches.
“Sometimes, if you have been ill and had a couple of days off work, you can feel a bit stiff and immobile,” says Katie Anderson, trainer at yoga and low-impact studio FLY LDN.
Anderson suggests three simple stretches to get some mobility back — and the first is a supine spinal twist.
She says: “Lie on your back and bring your knees to chest. Start to drop the knees to one side of the body, keeping your shoulders pressed onto the ground. Stay here for a breath and using the core, rotate your knees to the other side of the body, repeating on the other side.”
The second stretch is cat-cow. Begin on all-fours, Anderson explains, and “begin to undulate the back, tucking the chin to chest. Take a breath and then begin to undulate in the opposite direction, engaging the back and sliding the tailbone to the sky as the chin and chest lifts. Repeat with slow and controlled inhales and exhales.”
Lastly, a downward dog to long lunge will help your body get back into action.
“Starting with the hands and feet flat on the ground with hips high, shift your body into a high plank, taking one foot forward to the outside of your hand,” Anderson explains. “Taking a breath here to release the hips, exhale and send your body back into downward dog. Take another breath and repeat to the other leg.
“Depending on how your body is feeling, you can take this slowly or you can move through it a little speedier.”