- How to get rid of a cold – tried and tested remedies for feeling better fast
- What is a cold?
- How do you catch a cold?
- How long does a cold last?
- Natural remedies
- What to eat
- 90.9 WBUR wbur
- Bronchitis (Chronic)
- Why Does the Body Sweat When You’re Sick
- 5 Things to do in the First 24 Hours of a Cold or Flu
- Dr. Amy Cottrell
- Tips for Early Treatment:
- When it Lasts Longer Than 24 Hours:
- Is Exercise Good for the Common Cold?
- When You Can Exercise With a Cold
- When You Shouldn’t Exercise With a Cold
- Don’t Forget Cough and Common-Cold Etiquette
- When Being Sick and Exercise Collide
- Exercise when sick: Should you sweat it out? Or rest and recover?
- The immune system: A quick and dirty intro
- The innate and adaptive immune response
- Should you exercise while sick?
- What about “working out”?
- How exercise affects the immune system
- Exercise, stress, and immune function
- The role of stress
- Other factors affecting immunity
- Textbook guidelines for exercising while sick
- To exercise or not? What the pros recommend
- Exercise activity cheat sheet
- What you should do
- Passionate about nutrition and health?
- Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.
- Is getting hot and sweaty while you’re sick a bad thing?
- So if you can’t sweat out a cold, what do you do to feel better?
- Can You Sweat Out A Cold? Experts Say It’s Not A Surefire Cure
- Believe it or not, this idea of “sweating out a cold” dates back to Roman times, so the rumor’s been circulating for quite a while.
- You can work out if you have a cold (make sure you double-check with your doctor though, just to be sure), but working up a sweat doesn’t actually do much for curing the infection.
- So if you have cold, it’s in your best interest to take a rest day or two and focus on more effective ways to recover.
- The Good Thing About Exercise
- So, Does That Mean Sweating It Out Works?
- Well, What Should I Do Then?
How to get rid of a cold – tried and tested remedies for feeling better fast
There’s never a right time to get a cold.
Whether it’s cold and flu season or not, it’s a pain to get the sniffles, but never fear – we’re here to help.
The sweet caress of the wintry mistress that is commonly known as “the sniffles” is lingering around every corner, on every tube seat, wrapped around every pole.
Why, it’s probably sitting at the desk next to you right this very second.
Chances are you, or someone you know, will be struck down with sniffles, coughs and sore throats at some point. Probably more than once.
Luckily for you, there is many a way to stave off the common cold – or at least lessen its impact until it shoots back into the abyss.
Because who wants to be stuck in bed with tissues stuck up their snoz, blubbering, sneezing, unable to taste food or go five minutes without sneezing said tissues across the room?
No, thank you. From the best pharmacy medicines, to herbal remedies and good ol’ fashioned bed rest, we’ve compiled a handy list of the best tried, tested and scientifically proven ways to get rid of your cold.
Or to avoid those suckers in the first place.
Pen and paper at the ready? Health is waiting.
Painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin are the only medication known to treat colds. They come in a huge variety of forms – and the painkiller-based cold remedies often come with other fancy ingredients that are supposedly there to suckerpunch the germs.
But whether you choose to take it in pill, capsule, soluble tablet or hot drink, the thing that’s doing the most good is the painkiller.
Decongestants – taken by mouth or up your nose – can help too, relieving that blocked-up feeling and clearing out your sinus cavities. Most cold and flu remedy pills and hot drinks will have some kind of decongestant in them.
They can give you a bit of a pick-me-up too, which can be helpful during the day – but a nightmare if you want to go to sleep.
Decongestants can relieve that bunged up feeling
There’s some recent research that suggests taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges could speed up recovery and make the symptoms less harsh.
But it’s not a good idea to take that for a long time, because it can have side effects such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
And who wants to team those two with a cold?
4. Check the box
As with any medications, you should always check the box to make sure anything you’re taking for your cold isn’t going to badly interact with any other medications you’re on.
Some antidepressants can react badly when combined with some decongestants. If you’re in any doubt, check the NHS website or talk to your doctor.
5. Should I pester my doctor for antibiotics?
No. Your cold is almost certainly caused by a viral infection, and antibiotics will do absolutely nothing to relieve it. What they might do is give you unpleasant side effects and increase the resistance of bugs to antibiotics, so they might not work when you actually do need them.
ANTIBIOTICS DON’T DO ANYTHING TO RELIEVE A COLD. NOTHING. (Image: Getty)
6. What about non-medicated options?
Inhaling steam can help loosen the mucus in your nose, making it easier to clear by blowing.
Fill a bowl with hot water, put a towel over your head and breath deeply with your eyes closed. If you’re at work and can’t get away with having a bowl of hot water on your desk, chemists sell inhalators. While they’re essentially just big plastic jugs with a mouthpiece – they’re almost as good as a bowl, and much less complicated.
For your sore throat you could suck on menthol sweets or gargle with salt water.
7. Eating, drinking and resting
When you’ve got a cold, you sweat a lot and have a runny nose – so if you don’t replace those fluids, you’ll just feel worse. So amp up the water intake.
You should also rest up. While we’re not saying you should take a week off work or anything, you’ll get better faster if you allow your body to rest.
By taking a day off work as soon as your symptoms emerge and spend it in bed sleeping, you may be able to fight off further symptoms.
(It also stops you from spreading your new cold friend to co-workers on the most-infectious first couple of days. No one wants to be that person.)
You should also eat a low-fat, high-fibre diet, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – which, let’s be honest, is pretty much true whether you have a cold or not.
There’s a reason mum would always whip up a catch of chicken soup whenever we’d get sick.
And for goodness sake, wash your hands and sneeze into a tissue. Some things are best kept to yourself, non?
8. What about herbal remedies?
There are plenty of herbal remedies for the common cold out there – the most commonly-cited is echinacea.
While people claim the herb makes people recover from the common cold quicker than paracetamol-based remedies, there’s no firm evidence to support this. There have been various trials with inconclusive results, but nothing solid.
The same can be said for vitamin C. While many claim it has preventative and healing properties with regard to the cold and flu, studies found it has very, very limited benefit.
9. Eat garlic
They (health professionals) say a garlic glove every few hours is a great way to clear a cold quick.
Garlic possesses antioxidants with antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic properties. On top of that, it aids with decongestion to clear up the sinuses pronto.
Can you prevent yourself from getting a cold (Image: Getty)
10. Probiotics might be your friend
While antibiotics may work against you, research found popping a probiotic, namely the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Bifidobacterium animalis BB-12, can ease symptoms.
A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that taking one could shave two days off your cold and reduce symptoms by 34 percent.
11. Try turmeric
The buzzy spice of the season is also quite useful when you’re feeling crap, apparently.
It contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory chemical that can put a stop to a virus as it starts to circulate in your system, according to research from George Mason University.
Guess Starbucks got onto the latte trend at the right time.
There’s the turmeric tablets to give you a boost too.
12. Hit the gym
Not the thing you want to hear when you’ve got a cold, but studies show sweating is one of the best ways to rid yourself of the sniffles.
You see, viruses can’t survive in hot temperatures (hence why we get a fever as our body tries to fight incoming germs), so if you’re feeling up to it – as in, before your symptoms have peaked – get some cardio in and break a sweat.
They say you’re OK to work out if the cold is above your neck – so if you’ve got a stuffy nose and the start of a sore throat. If it’s made its way down to your chest, best to just rest up.
What is a cold?
According to the NHS website, a cold is a “mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways”.
There are over 200 strains of the common cold, but rhinovirus is the most common – being the one we’re usually exposed to each winter.
Symptoms usually emerge two days after exposure and include:
- A sore throat
- A blocked or runny nose
- A cough
Symptoms can worsen to include a fever, headache, and aching muscles.
If you find you’ve got anything more than these common symptoms, take yourself off to the docs, stat.
Cold and Flu
How do you catch a cold?
In a nutshell, you catch a cold by doing exactly that: catching it.
As many of the germs associated with coughs and colds are airborne, infection usually happens mainly by coming into contact with mucus or saliva from someone who already has the virus and it sneezing or coughing.
Still, don’t go thinking just because you’re guarding yourself from any airborne suckers that you’re home free.
Many germs linger on our hands, so shaking hands with someone infected, or touching things that have come into contact with them (like door handles or poles on public transport) is a one-way ticket to cold-town.
Thoroughly washing your hands or carrying around a tube of hand sanitiser is key during the winter months when these germs are thriving.
Other ways they say you can catch a cold is by having your nose out in the, er, cold. Apparently a chilly nose makes us less resistant to infection.
Same goes for cold feet – these cause the blood vessels in our nose to constrict which equals an easier channel for infection to get through.
Side note: you’re most infectious on day two and three of your symptoms, so keep that in mind when interacting with others so YOU don’t pass it on as well. Two wrongs don’t make a right…
If you’re trying to prevent a cold you can try and ‘blocker’, Boots has the Nasal Guard Cold & Flu Block here which blocks air-borne allergens which develop cold & flu symptoms. If it’s too late there’s the Lemsip Max Cold and Flu.
How long does a cold last?
Most colds will clear up usually within 10 days.
By jumping on top of symptoms as soon as they emerge with the above remedies, you’re more likely to recover faster.
If, after two weeks, you’re still not seeing signs of improvement, make an appointment with your doctor.
You’ve probably heard many of the old wives tales or your gran has given you her best tips to banish a cold, but here are a few sure fire ways that have stood the test of time.
- Salt Water
- Vapor Rub
- Warm bath
Sea salt (Image: iStockphoto)
You’ve probably tried this one before, but gargling with salt water is a good way to prevent infection as well as decrease symptoms once ill. It eases throat pain and loosens the mucus. Just dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water. Then swish it around your mouth and throat before spitting it out.
Good old Vix is what most people know and use, but any rub can ease your pain. It opens the air passages and eases congestion, reduces coughing and improves your sleep. You can get Vix here.
If you have a young child this can be a good option if you want to avoid medication.
The environment you’re in is also important. If you are in a dry environment it can spread disease more. Flu and cold viruses thrive in dry settings.
If you increase the humidity you can also reduce inflammation in your nasal cavities, making it easier to breathe.
Add a dehumifier to your room or try or home made version by warming water, leaning over the bowl and covering your head with a towel. Add eucalyptus to help ease symptoms.
Amazon has the Pro Breeze as it’s top choice for dehumidifiers – you can get it here. For a cheaper option try the UniBond.
A nice easy option. If it’s a child, give them a warm bath and sponge them down. It can work for adults too. Add epsom salt and baking soda to reduce any aches, or essential oils to soothe.
What to eat
1. Chicken soup
(Image: Getty Images)
This is definitely right up there. Your mum or dad has probably made you a batch when you’ve been ill and you’ve gulped it down without question. Research shows that a chicken soup with vegetables, whether from a can or homemade, does help.
It slows the movement of neutrophils around your body. They’re the common type of white blood cell that helps you protect your body from infection. If they move slowly they are more concentrated where you need them – and you heal quicker.
Fresh ginger may be helpful (Image: Photographer’s Choice)
There’s scientific proof that ginger, if only a few slices in boiling water, helps sooth a cold.
It can keep feelings of nausea at bay – so is used during pregnancy too.
Just one gram of ginger can “alleviate clinical nausea of diverse causes” according to a study.
We mentioned it earlier, but garlic shouldn’t be underestimated.
It has allicin, which may have antimicrobial properties. Adding garlic to your diet helps cut down cold symptoms.
It can also prevent you getting ill to start with.
Honey (Image: Getty)
Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Honey is also a cold suppressant.
Ten grams of honey at bedtime reduces the severity of cough symptoms.
Don’t give honey to a child younger than one year’s old though as it has botulinum spores. While harmless to adults, children can’t fight them off.
The herb and root has been used for thousands of years. It has flavonoids in it, which boost your immune system and reduce inflammation.
Pro biotic drinks (Image: Getty)
These are friendly bacteria and yeast found in your body, food and supplements.
They help your gut and immune system, keeping them healthy, and, research suggests that they may also reduce your chance of getting sick.
Add yoghurt into your diet to get your probiotic fix.
7. Vitamin C
(Image: Ikon Images)
Everyone knows this one. Think oranges, limes, kiwis and grapefruits as well as leafy greens. Simply adding fresh lemon to tea with honey can help your cold.
Earaches generate a great deal of antibiotic use in children, and “clearly, there are some situations where ear infections do need an antibiotic,” Dr. Kruskal said. But “the take-home for parents might be, number one, don’t push for an antibiotic, and in fact, if a pediatrician is writing a prescription, ask, ‘Do we really need this or could we wait a few days?'”
The CDC and other health authorities offer “average duration” for many illnesses, but they can be confusing. From the BMJ paper:
For example, the 2008 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines for treatment of respiratory tract infections include estimates of average duration of the illness (before and after seeing a doctor) of four days for acute otitis media, one week for acute sore throat, one and a half weeks for the common cold, and three weeks for acute cough or bronchitis.8 By contrast, information for patients from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe sore throat as lasting one to two weeks, common cold lasting up to two weeks, and cough duration ranging from two to eight weeks.9 The durations quoted in these sources reflect findings based on expert opinion or from individual studies rather than from data synthesis of multiple studies and are not child specific.
The BMJ paper undertook a full-fledged, systematic review of existing scientific literature to determine how long respiratory-tract ailments last when untreated or treated only with symptom-relievers — over-the-counter medicines which temporarily make kids feel better but don’t affect the course of the illness.
The United-Kingdom-based research team combed through more than 10,000 papers and found about 50 papers that gave them information on about 2,500 children, Dr. Thompson said.
“This is the first time that we’ve been able to bring together all the studies which have looked at different kinds of respiratory infections in children,” he said, “so that we can present, all in one place, the expected length of illness for cough, cold, sore throat, ear infection and croup.”
The numbers should be disseminated widely among both clinical staff and the general public, said Dr. Kruskal, who was not involved with the paper.
But what about the frightening possibility that they might keep some parents from calling the doctor when they should?
“People are worried enough,” he said, “that even if we down-modulate things a bit, they’re still going to be more worried than they need to be.”
Readers, thoughts? Questions? One postscript: I asked Dr. Thompson whether these new duration numbers changed anything about how long children should be kept out of school or away from other kids for fear of contagion. He emailed:
In terms of your question about how long kids should be kept out of school or away from other kids, here is my opinion as a MD and parent: If you child is really unwell, in other words they have a fever, coughing badly, not eating or drinking, or just plain miserable, then using your common sense and keeping an eye on them at home and avoiding school is a good idea. I would also be careful if your child has a cough or cold and is in contact with children or adults with significant underlying medical problems (e.g. those with immune deficiencies or similar illnesses), or the elderly who can be vulnerable to these types of illnesses. But otherwise, there is no particularly good reason to keep them off school every time they have any cough or cold. If we did, then kids could miss weeks of school each year.
I know the exact date I got sick with bronchitis because I rarely get sick. It was 4-13-18. Our son caught a terrible ‘cold’ and was coughing severely for 3 weeks. He coughed so hard he would throw up. After one particularly bad coughing fit, I took him to the emergency room (ER) where they diagnosed him with a double ear infection and post nasal drip. He was given antibiotics, and was coughing less at the 3 week mark. By six weeks, he cleared completely. Unfortunately, I caught whatever he had. So on 4-13, I started coughing myself. No headaches or sore throat. Just a slightly productive cough. At the 3 day mark, I contacted a doctor and was given Tessalon Perles and cough syrup, but they didn’t help much. The main thing was whenever I would attempt to lie down, I would cough worse, so the bottom line was, it was impossible for me to sleep, even with loading up on Tessalon Perles and syrup. By the 7th day, things were getting worse and not better, so I went to urgent care. My oxygen was low, but that’s mostly because I was breathing shallow to avoid coughing. She said my lungs sounded clear, but agreed to give me a course of amoxicillin. The antibiotics didn’t really seem to do anything. She also gave me albuterol, which seemed to help somewhat. Also, during this time, I was taking a variety of herbal treatments including oregano, basil, garlic and ginger. The garlic and ginger seemed to help the most. The doctor diagnosed me with bronchitis. She wanted to give me a chest x-ray but I declined because I was private paying and knew I had an acute, not chronic condition. By week 4, I could finally lie down and go to sleep, but only if I stayed on my stomach. I also started wheezing during this time. Also, by this time, the phlegm production lessened, but I would still having occasional hard coughing periods trying to clear my lungs. By the end of the 5th week, I actually started feeling better, but did have one bad night where I was wheezing pretty bad and thought I might need to go to the ER. That night I took a Claritin, used a vaporizer, and took some albuterol puffs, and eventually it subsided. After that night, I finally turned the corner and my lungs cleared substantially and I finally could sleep in any position. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I caught a nasty form of viral bronchitis and in total, it took six weeks to recover. I’d say my immune system responded strongly to it causing a low graded fever, lots of mucus, loss of appetite, and heavy coughing. By weeks 3 to 6, the symptoms only gradually improved, kind of like 2 steps forward, one step back. By week 6, it finally cleared. What I would say helped are garlic, ginger, Gaia bronchial wellness tea, Tessalon Perles, Claritin, albuterol, lots of water, as much rest as possible, coughing into a towel, and vaporizer. What didn’t help were cough syrup, antibiotics, basil, oregano, turmeric and elderberry. This was truly a terrible sickness. I actually lost 15 lb. and it made me re-appreciate being able to breathe. I don’t wish this upon anyone.
Why Does the Body Sweat When You’re Sick
Why the Body Sweats
In order to understand why the body sweats when it is sick it is important to first understand how sweat works with body temperature and homeostasis in the first place. The main reason that humans sweat is to maintain thermoregulation – the process that allows your body to maintain its core internal temperature. The body has several processes that allow it to heat up when needed like vasoconstriction (blood vessels shrinking) , piloerection (goosebumps), a decrease in sweating, increased muscle contraction, non-shivering thermogenesis, and seeking warm clothing or environments. However, when it comes to cooling down its internal temperature the body relies predominantly on sweating. Aside from sweating, there are no other known mechanisms the body has to reduce its temperature other than behavioral adjustments, like wearing heavier clothing and seeking warmer temperatures. This makes sweating critical to thermoregulation. In fact, sweating can dissipate heat from the body at a rate that is more than ten times the resting metabolic production of heat. Therefore, sweating is a powerful tool the body uses to quickly get rid of heat and maintain homeostasis. This comes into play when a person gets sick as a fever, one of the body’s main defences against illness, raises the body’s internal temperature.
A healthy person’s body tries to maintain a temperature around 98.6 degrees, although their temperature naturally fluctuates by about .9 degrees F throughout the day. However, this changes when a person develops a fever. Humans, and other mammals, usually develop a fever in response to infection, inflammation, or trauma. Fever can be defined as an adaptive response of the body to infection (or non-infective inflammatory issues) in which the hypothalamus raises the body’s thermoregulatory set point and the body’s temperature is consistently raised above a person’s normal daily temperature fluctuations. The body often uses fever to kill off foreign infections, but that is not always the case.
Once a person’s body initiates the fever process chemical messengers called pyrogens are released into the bloodstream. Pyrogens are part of the immune system response and, through a complex chemical process, cause a person’s body to raise in temperature. Once a person has a fever they will often exhibit symptoms like headache, malaise, anorexia and other sickness behaviours. A person with a fever will also experience heat generating mechanisms like skin vasoconstriction which leads to chills and goosebumps, muscle contractions (shivering), and a desire to be warm. Once a person’s temperature reaches its new high setpoint and a fever runs its course, the body lowers its setpoint and begins to employ body cooling processes. Due to the fact that sweating is the body’s primary way to cool itself down, people who are recovering from a fever often experience sweating as a part of that process. It is the body’s natural way of cooling itself down and regaining its normal homeostasis.
Excessive sweating that is not related to primary focal hyperhidrosis, or fever due to an infection or injury can be a sign of something more serious. Certain diseases and conditions can cause secondary hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating that is caused by an underlying issue. Some medications can also cause secondary hyperhidrosis. It is wise to seek medical assistance if you suspect that you may have secondary hyperhidrosis, a high or long-term fever, or experience excessive sweating accompanied by pallor and diaphoresis.
Growing up playing sports, especially a sport like wrestling that is just known for having a bunch of bacteria and disease associated with it, I’ve heard the saying oh just sweat it out quite a lot. I never really understood this though because when I was sick during the season when I was playing sports I usually did not feel good, or feel like I had the energy to even walk around my house let alone go and workout or practice. So I always wondered if it were possible to actually sweat out a cold or a sickness that you had incurred.
Saunas are recommended to many patients with asthma and arthritis and things of this sort. Scientists do have some evidence that shows that saunas do benefit in recovery from colds and also reducing the amount of sickness a person contracts. At temperatures of upwards of 180+ degrees fahrenheit saunas are definitely a place where a lot of sweating and exfoliation takes place. Now some scientists believe that the saunas show these benefits because when you’re in the sauna you’re sweating and all your pores are open and exfoliating and other think it is due to the fact that the high temperatures in the sauna weaken the viruses.
In a study, Austrian researchers set up 2 groups of 50 adults, on group was to sure the saunas regularly and the other was to not use them. The researchers tracked the 100 subjects for 6 months. After the conclusion of the 6 months, the scientist research showed that the subject who used the sauna regularly contracted less colds as opposed to the group who did not use the sauna.
Overall, I think that saunas have definitely showed positive results and are leading scientists to say that using the saunas are good in fighting colds, but I don’t think there is enough proof to say that they definitely do. In my opinion I feel like all peoples bodies are different and they may react to the sauna in different ways, so I feel as if the sauna could benefit one person in this scenario and not the other just due to the fact at how their body reacts to this. I also do not think that this will make me want to go sit in a sauna when I am sick seeing as this does not seem to have that many benefits, it’s more so saying there are benefits to not getting colds, not necessarily if you have a cold and are trying to get rid of it.
Image found here
5 Things to do in the First 24 Hours of a Cold or Flu
Dr. Amy Cottrell
Nov 1, 2017 · 3 min read
You’ve all been there. That tell-tale tickle in your throat, the drippy nose that starts a cascade of sneezes, that sinking feeling when you realize, “Oh, no. I’m sick!” This early stage of cold and flu symptoms is no time to wait and see how bad it will get. If you treat your symptoms early enough, you may be able to prevent the virus from spreading to others or becoming worse. The first 24 hours are critical.
Here’s what I recommend to my patients at the first sign of symptoms such as fever, headache, cough, congestion, sore throat, body aches and chills, and/or exhaustion.
Tips for Early Treatment:
- Don’t Over-Exert Yourself. When you’re starting to feel sick, this is not the time to run a few miles or pull an all-nighter for a big project. It’s your chance to rest, recuperate, and let your body recover. Pushing your limits at this point will take away important energy your body needs to get better — and potentially increase the time it takes to get well.
- Over the Counter Medicines Can Help. Early symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and sinus pain can be treated with pain-relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Be sure to read the label carefully and follow dosage recommendations exactly. Taking too little medication may not be effective — taking too much can be dangerous. Remember, doses for children vary based on their age and weight, and children under the age of 18 should not be given aspirin. It can cause a serious condition called Reye’s Syndrome.
- Avoid Cold and Damp Environments. Although it’s a myth that you’ll get sick just from not bundling up when it’s cold outside, it’s true that bacteria and viruses thrive at cooler temperatures. So if you’re fighting a bug, it’s best to stay warm and dry.
- Get Enough Sleep. In the first 24 hours of an illness, you should sleep as much as possible to give your body a chance to recover. Resist the urge to binge watch your favorite shows or stay up late catching up on emails. Go to bed!
- Drink Plenty of Fluids. Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body while your immune system is gearing up for a fight. Water, decaffeinated tea, sport drinks, and sugar-free drinks are best. They can help fight dehydration associated with fever. Also, hot tea with lemon and honey can soothe congestion, sore throat, and cough.
When it Lasts Longer Than 24 Hours:
If you don’t improve after 24 hours, you may want to consult a doctor. Multiple conditions (eg, flu, strep throat, bronchitis) share similar symptoms. But while your fever, cough, and sore throat may feel the same, each condition calls for a different treatment, and telling them apart can be confusing.
When it comes to the flu, starting antiviral medicine within the first 48 hours can lead to a shorter and milder illness — so it’s important to act fast. Doctor On Demand lets you avoid the wait and see a doctor immediately by video, right from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Early treatment can get you feeling better faster and avoid spreading the virus to others.
Is Exercise Good for the Common Cold?
“Exercising with a cold or the flu is probably unlikely to cause complications if you do not have other medical problems,” says Dr. Liu. “However, if you have an underlying medical condition such as asthma, heart disease, or other medical illnesses, you should check with your doctor first, as exercise may worsen an underlying medical problem.”
Moderate exercise won’t prolong your illness or make your symptoms worse, but it may not shorten them, either. One possible benefit of exercising with a cold: If you’re generally well-hydrated, a workout can break up congestion, notes Dr. Durst. However, your congestion could worsen if you’re dehydrated.
When You Can Exercise With a Cold
“When you are sick, the most important thing to do is listen to your own body,” advises Liu. You can exercise if:
- You want to and have the energy.
- Your symptoms are mild, such as just a runny nose.
- You have been fever-free for 24 hours.
When You Shouldn’t Exercise With a Cold
Avoid exercise when:
- You have a fever.
- Your body aches.
- You have a cough.
- You have flu symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or rash.
- You have a cold along with chronic health concerns, such as heart disease or asthma.
While you may think you can sweat out a cold, Liu advises against it. If anything, the opposite is true. “Sweating does not help get rid of a cold,” she says. “Rest and staying hydrated by drinking liquids are important in helping you get better.”
Don’t Forget Cough and Common-Cold Etiquette
Gyms can turn into hotbeds of infection if people don’t take the right precautions when they’re working out with a cold. If you do go to the gym when you’re sick or recovering, mind your sick-person manners:
- Cover your mouth with a facial tissue when you sneeze or cough, or cough into your shoulder — not your bare hands, which are more likely to spread germs.
- Wipe off any equipment you use.
- Throw used facial tissues in the trash.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer before and after your workout.
“Proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene are essential to prevent the spread of disease,” emphasizes Liu.
When Being Sick and Exercise Collide
“A person should always seek medical attention if during exercise they experience chest pain or indigestion, difficulty catching their breath, wheezing, feeling faint, worsening body aches, or cola-colored urine,” advises Durst.
If you can’t bear to take time off from your fitness routine to nurse a cold, it won’t hurt you to throw on your shoes and workout clothes. Just listen to your body, and oblige if you think you need a rest day. You’ll be back on the treadmill soon enough.
“I was surprised their lung function wasn’t impaired,” Dr. Kaminsky said. “I was surprised their overall exercise performance wasn’t impaired, even though they were reporting feeling fatigued.”
He said he also tested the subjects at different points in the exercise sessions, from moderate to intense effort, and found that their colds had no effect on their metabolic responses.
Another question was: Does exercising when you have a cold affect your symptoms and recovery time?
Once again, Dr, Kaminsky and his colleagues infected volunteers with a rhinovirus. This time, the subjects were 34 young men and women who were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds and 16 others who were assigned to rest.
The group that exercised ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.
Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity. The researchers collected the subjects’ used facial tissues, weighing them to assess their cold symptoms.
The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”
Now, Dr. Kaminsky said, he and others at Ball State encourage people to exercise when they have colds, at least if they have the type producing symptoms like runny noses and sneezing. He is more cautious about other types of colds that produce fevers or symptoms below the neck such as chest congestion. Exercising with a head cold is not an issue for athletes, Dr. Kaminsky said, because most of them want to train no matter what. “If anything they tend to push too much,” he said.
Exercise when sick: Should you sweat it out? Or rest and recover?
Everybody gets sick. But it’s tough to know what to do about it; do you exercise when sick or not?
Should you “sweat it out”? Or get some rest instead?
In this article we clear up the confusion. Next time you come down with the flu or a cold, you’ll know what to do.
- Want to see our visual guide? Check out the infographic here…
Your friendly neighborhood gym. You’re warmed up and ready for a great workout.
Then, all the sudden, Mr. Sneezy walks by. Coughing, sniffling, and heavy mouth-breathing. He’s spraying all over the benches and mats.
“Dude, shouldn’t you just stay home and rest?” you’re thinking.
(And, while you’re at it, stop sharing those nasty germs?)
But maybe Mr. Sneezy’s onto something. Maybe he’ll be able to sweat the sickness out of his system, boosting his immune system along the way.
What’s the right approach? Let’s explore.
The immune system: A quick and dirty intro
Every single day, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites come at us. Folks, it’s a germ jungle out there!
The most common invaders are upper respiratory tract invaders, or URTI’s. Yep, I’m talking about
- throat infections, and
- middle ear infections.
Luckily, our immune system has got a plan. When faced with foreign attack, it works hard to defend us. Without the immune system, we’d never have a healthy day in our lives.
Our immune cells originate in our bone marrow and thymus. They interact with invaders through the lymph nodes, the spleen, and mucus membranes.
This means they first make contact in your mouth, gut, lungs, and urinary tract.
The innate and adaptive immune response
Our innate (natural) immune system is our non-specific first line of defense.
- physical/structural barriers (like the mucous lining in nasal passages),
- chemical barriers (like our stomach acids), and
- protective cells (like our natural killer ‘NK’ cells, white blood cells that can destroy harmful invaders).
This immune system develops when we’re young.
Interestingly, women tend to have a stronger overall innate immune response. (Maybe this is why they often do better than men when it comes to colds. But they suffer more often from autoimmune diseases.)
Then there’s the adaptive (acquired) immune system.
This is a more sophisticated system composed of highly specialized cells and processes. It kicks in when the innate immune system is overcome.
The adaptive immune system helps us fight infections by preventing pathogens from colonizing and by destroying microorganisms like viruses and bacteria.
Cue the T and B cells. These specialized white blood cells mature in the thymus and bone marrow, respectively. And believe it or not, they actually have a kind of memory.
It’s this memory that makes them so effective. Once they “recognize” a specific pathogen, they mobilize more effectively to fight it.
This is what we mean when we talk about “building immunity.”
Ever wondered why kids get sick with viruses more often than adults? It’s because they haven’t had as much exposure so their adaptive immune systems are less mature.
What’s more, the acquired immune response is the basis for vaccination. Subject your body to a tiny dose of a pathogen, and it will know what to do when confronted with a bigger dose.
Should you exercise while sick?
Let’s get one thing clear from the start: there’s a difference between “working out” and “physically moving the body.”
A structured workout routine — one where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard, and feeling some discomfort — awakens a stress response in the body.
When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is precisely what makes us fitter and stronger.
But when we’re sick, the stress of a tough workout can be more than our immune systems can handle.
Still, there’s no reason to dive for the couch the minute you feel the sniffles coming on. Unless you’re severely out of shape, non-strenuous movement shouldn’t hurt you — and it might even help.
What do I mean by “non-strenuous movement”?
Well, it might include:
- walking (preferably outdoors),
- low intensity bike riding (again, outdoors),
- practicing T’ai Chi.
In fact, all of these activities have been shown to boost immunity.
They aren’t intense enough to create serious immune-compromising stress on the body. Instead, they often help you feel better and recover faster while feeling under the weather.
That’s why Dr. Berardi often recommends low intensity non-panting “cardio” when suffering from colds. Done with minimal heart rate elevation, preferably outside, these activities seem to offer benefits.
What about “working out”?
Non-strenuous movement and purposefully working out are different.
Plus, as you probably know, not all workouts are created equal. There are low intensity workouts and high intensity workouts — and all sorts of workouts in between.
But what’s low to one person might be high to another. So how can you decide what level of intensity counts as strenuous?
Let your own perceived level of exertion be your guide.
In general, a low to moderate intensity workout will leave you feeling energized. A high intensity workout, on the other hand, delivers an ass-kicking.
If you’re sick, it makes sense to avoid the ass-kicking.
Let’s take a look at why.
How exercise affects the immune system
Exercise may play a role in both our innate and our adaptive immune response.
- After one prolonged vigorous exercise session we’re more susceptible to infection. For example, running a marathon may temporarily depress the adaptive immune system for up to 72 hours. This is why so many endurance athletes get sick right after races.
- However, one brief vigorous exercise session doesn’t cause the same immune-suppressing effect. Further, just one moderate intensity exercise session can actually boost immunity in healthy folks.
- Interestingly, chronic resistance training seems to stimulate innate (but not adaptive) immunity. While chronic moderate exercise seems to strengthen the adaptive immune system.
In the end, here’s the pattern:
- Consistent, moderate exercise and resistance training can strengthen the immune system over time. So, by all means, train hard while you’re healthy.
- But single high intensity or long duration exercise sessions can interfere with immune function. So take it easy when you’re feeling sick.
Exercise, stress, and immune function
A group of scientists gathering data on exercise habits and influenza found:
- People who never exercised got sick pretty often.
- People who exercised between once a month and three times a week did the best.
- People who exercised more than four times a week got sick most often.
Enter the J-shaped curve theory.
In simple terms, being sedentary or exercising too much can lower immunity, while something in the middle can improve immunity.
The role of stress
Exercise isn’t the only factor that affects the immune system. Stress plays a big role too.
Let’s take a look at the different stressors a person might face on any given day.
Stress triggers an entire cascade of hormonal shifts that can result in chronic immune changes.
- Acute stress (minutes to hours) can be beneficial to immune health.
- Chronic stress (days to years) can be a big problem.
So, if you’re angry, worried, or scared each day for weeks, months, or even years at a time, your immunity is being compromised. And you’re more likely to get sick.
Sickness and stress
It’s pretty obvious that if you’re actually sick and fighting an infection, your immune system will already be stressed.
And if you add the stress of prolonged vigorous exercise, you might, quite simply, overload yourself. That will make you sicker.
Plus, your history of infections can influence how the immune system responds during exercise. This can include everything from the common herpes simplex virus, varicella zoster, and cytomegalovirus, to hepatitis and HIV.
A healthy body might adapt to all that. But a body that’s fighting an infection is not a healthy body.
Overtraining and infection
What’s more, sudden increases in exercise volume and/or intensity may also create new stress, potentially allowing a new virus or bacteria to take hold, again kicking off a sickness.
Consider the 1987 Los Angeles Marathon, where one out of seven marathon runners who ran became sick within a week following the race. And those training more than 60 miles per week before the race doubled their odds for sickness compared to those training less than 20 miles per week.
This seems to work the opposite way as well. Chronic infections may actually be a sign of overtraining.
Learning from cancer & HIV
Exercise therapy is often recommended for patients with cancer in part because of how it modulates the immune system. Exercise seems to increase NK cell activity and lymphocyte proliferation. In other words, it looks like exercise can be helpful.
Exercise interventions in those with HIV seem to help prevent muscle wasting, enhance cardiovascular health, and improve mood. We’re not sure how this works, though it may help to increase CD4+ cells.
Other factors affecting immunity
Besides stress, there are a host of other factors that can affect our immunity, and these can interact with exercise, either offering greater protection or making us more likely to get sick.
We’ve already touched on some of these. Here are a few more.
Our innate immune response can break down as we get older. But here’s the good news: staying physically active and eating a nutritious diet can offset many of these changes.
Menstrual phase and oral contraceptive use may influence how the immune system responds to exercise. Estrogens generally enhance immunity while androgens can suppress it. (Again, this may explain why women tend to do better with colds than men.)
Poor quality sleep and/or prolonged sleep deprivation jeopardizes immune function.
Exercising in a hot or cold environment doesn’t appear to be that much more stressful than exercising in a climate controlled environment.
For example, exercising in a slightly cool environment might boost the immune system. But full-fledged hypothermia may suppress immune function. While using a sauna or hot bath may stimulate better immunity in those with compromised immune function.
Exposure to higher altitudes has a limited influence on immunity.
It’s unclear exactly how obese folks respond to exercise in terms of immunity. Changes in insulin sensitivity and inflammation at rest may blunt or exaggerate their immune response to exercise.
There’s evidence that immune alterations affect mood and inflammation. Clinical depression is two to threefold higher among patients with diseases that have elevated inflammatory activity.
(Note: moderate exercise appears to act as an anti-inflammatory in those with inflammatory conditions).
There is a theory that IL-6 (a compound released after prolonged intensive exercise) may be produced in abnormal ways in some people, leading to fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and depressed mood.
The more “trained” you are, the better your body tends to handle exercise. In other words, it’s not as much of a stressor.
Just in case you glossed over the previous sentence I’ll reiterate it: a higher level of fitness is protective as it may limit the stress response to exercise.
Textbook guidelines for exercising while sick
- Day 1 of illness:
Only low intensity exercise with symptoms like sore throat, coughing, runny nose, congested nose.
No exercise at all when experiencing muscle/joint pain, headache, fever, malaise, diarrhea, vomiting.
- Day 2 of illness:
If body temp >37.5-38 C, or increased coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, do not exercise.
If no fever or malaise and no worsening of “above the neck” symptoms: light exercise (pulse <120 bpm) for 30-45 minutes, by yourself, indoors if winter.
- Day 3 of illness:
If fever and symptoms still present: consult doctor.
If no fever/malaise, and no worsening of initial symptoms: moderate exercise (pulse <150 bpm) for 45-60 min, by yourself, indoors.
- Day 4 of illness:
If no symptom relief, no exercise. Go to doctor.
If fever and other symptoms improved, wait 24 hours, then return to exercise.
If new symptoms appear, go to doctor.
Note: Some illnesses can indicate serious infections. So if you aren’t feeling better and recovering, see your doctor.
Also note: Ease back into exercise in proportion to the length of your sickness. If you were sick for 3 days. Take 3 days to ease back in.
To exercise or not? What the pros recommend
Now you know something about the immune system and how exercise interacts with it. But you still might be wondering whether you should exercise when you’re sick. I asked some of the best in the business for their insights.
The consensus: Let your symptoms be your guide and use common sense. And remember the distinction between exercise and working out.
INSIGHT 1 Nick Tumminello
I follow the general guideline that if it’s above the neck, it’s okay to train, and do so at an intense level. Just wash your hands before you touch all of the equipment to minimize giving your head cold to others at the facility. Anything below the neck, don’t come into the gym, and take it easy until you’re on the back end of it.
INSIGHT 2 Alwyn Cosgrove
Basically we don’t like people to train when they are ill. I can’t see any upside to doing so.
INSIGHT 3 Dr. Bryan Walsh
Let your symptoms be your guide. If you’re up for a walk or some light cardio, go for it. If you want to do some lighter weight, higher rep stuff just to keep things moving, that’s probably okay, too. But if you want to sit around watching re-runs of Married With Children, laughter is great medicine as well.
INSIGHT 4 Dean Somerset
Typically I ask clients to stay out of the gym if they have a cold. For one, their own workouts may not be very productive especially if they have respiratory congestion or irritation, and second because I don’t want to catch it! The gym typically isn’t the cleanest place in the world, so a cold bug could be easily spread around through the population by handling equipment or through respiratory droplets in the air.
INSIGHT 5 Dr. Spencer Nadolsky
With a viral URTI, I have no problem with my patients doing some light exercise. Anecdotally, sometimes it makes them feel better. There’s data to show those who exercise actually get less URTIs. If it’s a little more severe such as influenza (or something similar), I generally keep them focused on hydration and tell them to skip the workout. If they have any history of asthma, I am careful to make sure they have their rescue inhaler if they do feel up to exercising.
INSIGHT 6 Dr. Christopher Mohr
In terms of exercise, I let them “decide” what’s best for them depending on how they feel. If you can’t stop coughing or your head feels like it’s about to explode, I’d suggest taking some down time and getting plenty of sleep, including naps if possible. For me, I’ve found a short walk is still significantly better than nothing — and trying to get outside to do that vs. being stuck on a treadmill walking in circles. Trying to move iron in the gym is a bit much.
INSIGHT 7 Eric Cressey
I generally ask them just how bad it is on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero would be feeling absolutely fine, whereas a 10 would be the worst they’ve ever felt (e.g., violently ill and on their death bed). If it’s anything under a 3 (say, seasonal allergies), I’m fine with them training — albeit at a lower volume and intensity. We might even just do some mobility work or something to that effect.
I think the important separating factor is that we’re looking for the difference between just not feeling 100% (allergies, stress, headache) and actually being sick and contagious, which we absolutely don’t want in the gym — for the sake of that individual and those who are training around him/her.
Of course, this is pretty subjective — but what I think it does help us to do is avoid skipping days that would have been productive training days. Everyone has had those sessions when they showed up feeling terrible, but after the warm-up, they felt awesome and went on to have great training sessions. We don’t want to sit home and miss out on those opportunities, but we also don’t want to get sicker or make anyone else sicker — so it’s a definite balancing act.
INSIGHT 8 Dr. John Berardi
Unless you’re feeling like a train wreck I always recommend low intensity, low heart rate “cardio” during the first few days of sickness. Generally I prefer 20-30 minute walks done either outside (in the sunshine) or on a home treadmill (if you can’t get outside).
If you keep the intensity low and the heart rate down you’ll end up feeling better during the activity. And you’ll likely stimulate your immune system and speed up your recovery too. But even if you don’t speed up your recovery, you’ll feel better for having moved.
Exercise activity cheat sheet
Activities to consider when you’re sick.
- Qi gong
- T’ai Chi
All of these would be done at a low intensity, keeping your heart rate low. They’d also preferably be done outdoors in mild temperatures. Inside is fine, though, if you can’t get outside.
Activities to avoid when you’re sick.
- Heavy strength training
- Endurance training
- High intensity interval training
- Sprinting or power activities
- Team sports
- Exercise in extreme temperatures
And, for the sake of the rest of us, stay out of the gym. At the gym, you’re much more likely to spread your germs to others. Viruses spread by contact and breathing the air near sick people.
So, if you feel up to physical activity, again: do it outside or at your home gym.
We all thank you.
What you should do
If you feel healthy and simply want to prevent getting sick:
- Stay moderately active most days of the week.
- If you participate in high-intensity workouts, make sure you’re getting enough rest and recovery time.
- Manage extreme variations in stress levels, get plenty of sleep, and wash your hands.
If you are already feeling sick, let symptoms be your guide.
- Consider all the stress you’re managing in your life (e.g., psychological, environmental, and so forth).
- With a cold/sore throat (no fever or body aches/pains), easy exercise is likely fine as tolerated. You probably don’t want to do anything vigorous, no matter how long in duration.
- If you have a systemic illness with fever, elevated heart rate, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain/weakness, and enlarged lymph nodes, get some rest! If you have a serious virus and you exercise, it can cause problems.
Passionate about nutrition and health?
If so, and you’d like to learn more about it, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. Our next group kicks off shortly.
What’s it all about?
The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.
Developed over 15 years, and proven with over 100,000 clients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.
Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.
Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.
We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020.
If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.
- Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 30% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
- Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.
If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.
Things you never thought would make a comeback but did: low-rise jeans, Roseanne, and spring colds. (Oh, you thought colds were only a winter thing? Guess again.) There’s just something that much worse about having to stay inside when it’s nice out—planting the seeds for a person (definitely not me!) searching desperately various ways to kick their sniffles to the curb so they can still make it to outdoor brunch. Enter: the rumor that you can actually “sweat out a cold.”
There’s a biological reason why colds make you feel like garbage. “When viruses infect, they invade normal cells throughout your body and use those cells to replicate. This can kill, damage, or change the cells and make you feel sick,” explains Elizabeth Targan, MD, primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. What happens next is that you might get a fever—yep, even with a cold, but it’s typically a low-grade fever—which is your body’s way of supercharging your immune system to fight off the virus. (It also helps hinder the virus’ ability to replicate, says Dr. Targan.) When you have a fever, your core temp rises, and you sweat.
That’s why there’s all this chatter about “sweating out” a cold. If fevers are actually helpful, proponents claim, then on could theoretically shake off their illness faster by heating up the body through other means (like exercise or stepping into a sauna).
The reality is a bit of a bummer: “There has not been robust data to support this,” says Dr. Targan. Despite what some wellness IGers might have you believe, “sweat doesn’t have viral detoxifying superpowers,” she says. Your sweat, she explains, is made up of water, trace amounts of minerals, lactic acid, and urea—but not the virus.
Is getting hot and sweaty while you’re sick a bad thing?
Not necessarily—provided that you just have a cold. “Mild to moderate, low-impact exercise for 30 to 45 minutes gives the body an immune and metabolic boost, and helps the body fight off infection,” says Dr. Targan. Plus, a bit of movement followed by a hot shower can help clear up cold-related congestion. Just don’t go to the gym while you’re sick, she says—you don’t want to be that jerk covering the treadmill with cold germs.
However, pushing yourself too hard runs the risk of prolonging your illness. That’s why if you have a fever, headache, or muscle and joint pain, Dr. Targan says you should sit this session out and let your body completely rest. Same with vomiting or diarrhea—and if those last two don’t clear up within a few days, you should definitely go to the doctor for some help.
Shelling out for a sauna if you have a cold probably isn’t worth it, either. Its effectiveness is unclear; a single-blind controlled trial has been done in from 2010 found that sitting in a sauna with a common cold did nada to improve symptoms. So stick to a steamy shower—it’s cheaper!
So if you can’t sweat out a cold, what do you do to feel better?
Sadly, it’s true that there’s no cure for the common cold. So forget calling your doc asking for a Z-pack because when it comes to viruses, antibiotics won’t really do anything for you. (Seriously, don’t do this. Taking antibiotics when not needed encourages antibiotic resistance.) But you can do a few things to find relief while you wait out your cold:
1. Try OTC treatments: Dr. Targan says that OTC antihistamines and combination antihistamine/ decongestants may help alleviate sneezing, coughing, and congestion. (Though they come with side effects, like drowsiness in the case of first-generation antihistamine medications.) You may also try a decongestant nasal spray but use it for no more than three days, she says.
2. Sleep: The fantastic thing about colds is that they know just the right time to sideline you—like right before that big work presentation. Still, if you can, prioritize rest. Sleep helps your body fight the virus, says Dr. Targan. Aim for eight hours.
3. Hydrate: You won’t be able to taste wine anyway with all that congestion. (Joking.) But, listen, getting enough liquids through water, broth, and tea is important for various reasons, says Dr. Targan. “It helps your body fight off the infection, replenish fluid lost through fever, and loosens mucus,” she says. Sipping warm liquids also soothes the throat.
4. Slurp soup: Yes, it tastes good, feels good on your scratchy throat, and reminds you of mom when she took care of you when you were little. But the soup may also bolster the activity of immune cells so you can kick an infection faster. Dr. Targan also notes that there’s limited research that shows the soup can help clear mucous from nasal passages. Even if it doesn’t “work,” she says, it’s still pretty tasty. And, really, resting and eating soup sounds way better than hanging in a sauna to sweat out a cold.
Instead of sweating out a cold, try some of these natural cold and flu remedies. And here’s how to tell the difference between a cold and seasonal allergies.
Can You Sweat Out A Cold? Experts Say It’s Not A Surefire Cure
If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in the health and wellness space, it’s that not every catchy phrase spewing words of wisdom is legit. For example, raise your hand (or not, since I can’t see you anyway) if you’ve heard the saying “sweat a cold.” Well, you can forget it, because it doesn’t mean what you think it does. Sweating out a cold is different than working up a sweat when you have a cold. The two aren’t quite one and the same, so if you ask your doctor, they’ll likely give you the go-ahead to exercise with the sniffles, but they aren’t exactly prescribing daily workouts to cure your illness.
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, it’s really hard to pull me away from working out, even when I feel under the weather. Call it what you want to, but I believe fitness, like food, is a natural source of medicine for our bodies, but I can still acknowledge when it’s time to take a rest. Fighting off the case of the sniffles, however, isn’t that time, which is exactly what, I think, gets people confused about this idea of sweating out a cold.
Believe it or not, this idea of “sweating out a cold” dates back to Roman times, so the rumor’s been circulating for quite a while.
Not to be cheesy, but I’m going to be cheesy and quote Lindsay Lohan when I say I’m tired of rumors starting, especially in the wellness space. Your health isn’t something to experiment with or take lightly, but once an idea or phrase catches on, people are quick to believe whatever sounds good. This clearly isn’t a new concept, either.
Dr. Danica Barron, assistant medical director at ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., explains that “sweating out a cold” isn’t anything new. In fact, the thought process behind it all dates all the way back to ancient Roman times, when people were afraid of fevers because they didn’t have the technology or knowledge to figure out what they were or how they start.
“Ancient Romans had at least three temples of febris dedicated to worshipping a god of fever and would try to appease this god by leaving amulets which had been attached to the bodies of fever-stricken patients,” Dr. Barron tells Elite Daily. “This notion continued until the 1900s when we gained a better understanding of how diseases worked, and when you cured the underlying illness, the fever would go away.”
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from attaching amulets to our feverish bodies as a sacrifice to gods in order to get better, but the truth still stands: sweat’s not the answer, friends.
You can work out if you have a cold (make sure you double-check with your doctor though, just to be sure), but working up a sweat doesn’t actually do much for curing the infection.
Here’s the thing about viral infections: Once you’ve been exposed, it’s going to run its course, whether you like it or not. There are plenty of things you can do to ease symptoms, of course — like sticking to a basic diet of chicken soup and toast, drinking plenty of herbal tea, and going to bed on time — but, either way, the infection starts and ends on its own terms.
As far as exercise goes, FitWell spokesperson Ben Jones says that, to his knowledge, there’s no solid evidence that says you can sweat out a cold. Exercising when you have a cold can, however, make you feel a little better. “Some people get a buzz after exercise from the endorphins that are released by the exercise,” he tells Elite Daily. “This could make them feel better and give the impression that the cold is improving.”
In other words, it’s more of a mentality thing than anything else. When you catch a cold, your number one priority should be rest, so Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand, suggests waiting at least 48 hours after the onset of a cold or flu-related fever before hitting up the gym.
The whole point of exercising — you know, besides toning and gaining muscle and all that — is to strengthen your immune system. Sticking to a regular routine is an excellent way to prevent sickness, but when you’re already sick, exercise can put more stress on your body and actually lower your body’s immunity and ability to ward off illness. It sounds counterintuitive, right? That’s because it is.
“If you have a cold and have not been resting or eating and drinking regularly because you have been sick,” Dr. Tong tells Elite Daily, “then you could risk getting dehydrated and you should never exercise when you are dehydrated. Doing so can lower blood pressure dangerously and cause loss of consciousness.”
So if you have cold, it’s in your best interest to take a rest day or two and focus on more effective ways to recover.
Now that we know sweating out a cold is just an illusion, let’s focus on all the things that can get us through a viral infection.
Obviously, drinking a ton of fluids and getting enough rest are a given, but how you go about resting is also important. If you’re the type of person who, like me, cannot sit still, I highly suggest giving it your best shot when you’re under the weather. Better yet, don’t just lie on the couch watching Netflix all day; take a nap.
Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach and founder of Sleep Zoo, says the main thing your body needs to ward off a cold is *surprise* sleep. When you snooze, your immune system is performing the three Rs: resting, regrouping, and reenergizing. Additionally, Brantner tells Elite Daily, your body adjusts its sleep cycle during sickness, allowing for more “slow-wave sleep to fight the infection.” In other words, feel free to press snooze when you’re feeling sniffly.
This tip might come off as random, but you may also want to consider stopping by your local florist and picking up a plant that helps you sleep better. Yes, that’s actually a thing. It turns out, plants that look pretty and smell divine — like chamomile, lavender, snake plants, and even aloe vera — are natural air-purifiers that get rid of any toxins or bacteria floating around, which can make you feel sick. They’re also deliciously aromatic, and act as mild sedatives to soothe your body and lull you to sleep. Snoozing and lovely smells?Sounds like the perfect road to recovery to me.
We’ve all heard the saying at some point in our lives, but is exercising or going to the sauna really a good idea when we’re fighting a cold? Is there any real merit in trying to sweat it out?
Sweating is your body’s natural temperature regulation system, so its main purpose is to cool you down and protect you from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even a high fever (that’s why you tend to have hot flashes and sweat through the night). It’s also one of the ways your body detoxifies, as it eliminates waste and toxins through your sweat glands and skin. This detoxifying feature is one of the biggest reasons why people started looking into sweating as a possible remedy against the annoying symptoms the cold brings: sniffles, light cough, and fever.
Another thing that works in its favor is the fact that people generally do feel better after some movement, which goes against the old-school “Drink plenty of liquids and rest” rule. So, which one is better? Signing up for hot yoga or staying in your bed with a hot tea in hand?
The Good Thing About Exercise
Studies have shown some benefits of exercise when it comes to fighting a cold virus, as people reported feeling better and an overall sense of relief after finishing their workouts. Exercise has been known to increase the production of endorphins, the reason behind that post-workout bliss. Endorphins are neurochemicals that get produced in your brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Their chemical structure is very similar to morphine, so they act as natural painkillers as they activate the opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize pain and discomfort, and also increase the feelings of happiness, euphoria, and overall well-being. That’s why they get released during all of your favorite moments, such as eating chocolate, dancing, playing with your kids, falling in love (the butterflies-in-the-stomach-effect), sexual activity, and even childbirth.
Exercising promotes that same neurochemical reaction, stimulating your hypothalamus and pituitary gland to increase the production of endorphins, as well as three other happiness neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The physical stress your body endures during a workout signals the brain that it’s time to produce painkillers, and therefore, these wonderful magic pills get released! This is why we tend to feel better after an intense workout, especially if we’re already feeling under the weather when the cold virus kicks in.
So, Does That Mean Sweating It Out Works?
Well, unfortunately, even if a hot yoga class or running some miles on the treadmill makes you feel better, there isn’t any scientific evidence that supports it actually speeds your recovery and fights the virus itself.
“But, didn’t you say that sweating eliminates toxins?”, you might ask. The true amount of toxins that get released through your sweat glands is minuscule compared to those affecting your body when it’s fighting with the cold. If that were actually so effective, all we would ever do is sit in the sauna until we’ve managed to sweat them all out.
“The virus infiltrates all different kinds of cells, which means it’s difficult to make it totally escape your system without medication and lots of work from your body,” explains Janejira Chaiyasit, DNP, assistant professor at Columbia University School of Nursing. “In addition to that, the life of a virus depends on several factors besides just temperature, like your body’s pH, the type of host cell the virus latches onto, and other physical barriers. Temperature is definitely an important aspect, but does not determine a virus’ viability solely”, she says. So, there goes the sweating out a cold theory down the drain.
Well, What Should I Do Then?
Even though there isn’t scientific proof for actually curing a cold with exercise, all the aforementioned benefits still stand, so you could definitely put on your favorite pair of leggings and hit the gym, but keep a few things in mind: Your symptoms need to be mild and manageable, and they shouldn’t get worse over time. If you find yourself getting even more congested or you feel your cough irritating your throat or chest too much, take it down a notch, and catch up on your favorite show while sipping on that hot tea.
Overexerting your body can’t do any good, and it can also lead to dehydration and making your body fight more than it should. Another thing to pay attention to is being more considerate towards people around you. Even though you might be feeling fine throughout the workout, sneezing, coughing and sniffling make those around you feel a bit uneasy, as they risk getting infected. Most cold viruses stay active days into your illness, creating a high chance of transferring it to others.
The bottom line: While working out or getting a quick sauna session might sound like a good idea, keep it to a minimum, and keep on listening to that “rest and fluids” advice. Eventually, the cold will find its way out of your body, and you’ll be back to your regular sweating routine before you know it.