Best and Worst Exercises to Do When You Have a Cold
Your workout Rx
First, Besser says, use the "neck rule": If your symptoms are above the necksneezing, sinus pressure, stuffy nosethen breaking a sweat is generally considered safe. Listen to your body, and consider the following best (and worst) workout options.
"If your sinuses are plugged up, walking will stimulate you to take deep breaths and can help open up those passages," says Besser. (Of course, if you discover that walkingor any type of physical exertionmakes you feel worse, rather than better, stop and focus on getting rest, instead.) Although there's little research on how exercise can affect the duration of a cold, studies have shown that people who regularly work out tend to get sick less, overall.
As long as jogging is part of your regular routine, there's no reason you need to skip it just because of a mild head cold. "My patients who are runners all say that running helps them feel better when they're sick," says Andrea Hulse, DO, a family practitioner (and runner) in Silver Spring, Maryland. "Running is a natural decongestant, and it can help clear your head and feel normal again."
You can scale back the intensity of your normal run, Hulse says, since your body is already working in overdrive to help fight off infection. And the American College on Exercise recommends holding off completely if you're experiencing flu-like or below-the-neck symptoms, like nausea or vomiting.
Best: Qi Gong
There is some modern evidence that qi gong has immunity-boosting powers, as well: A 2011 University of Virginia study found that varsity swimmers who did qi gong at least once a week came down with 70 percent fewer respiratory infections that their teammates who practiced it less often.
Worst: Endurance Running
While no studies have looked at the effects of endurance running while already sick, Hulse says, its overall strain on the immune system is well documented: A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Sciences, for example, reported that immune function may be compromised for up to 24 hours after prolonged, continuous exercise (1.5 hours or longer).
Choose a slower style of practice, like Hatha or Iyengar yoga, if you're worried about overdoing it with vigorous sun salutations. Or focus on restorative postures, like Child's Pose and Legs Up the Wall, at home. And don't forget to say "om": A Swedish study found that humming is a good way to open up clogged sinus passages.
Watch the video: Yoga Poses for Less Stress and Better Sleep
Worst: Machines at the Gym
"If you would not like the person next to you on the treadmill or who finishes before you on the elliptical to be sneezing and coughing and wiping their nose, than do your fellow gym mates a favor and do a lighter workout at home, instead." Germs can spread easily on machines and in the locker room, he adds, so it's best to stay away while you're contagious.
Dance classes tend to be low impact, so you can break a sweat without putting too much stress on your joints (or aggravating a cold-related sinus headache). You can go at your own pace, as well: Take it easy on days you're not feeling 100 percent, and try to just enjoy the party.
Worst: Lifting Weights
Still don't want to skip a strength workout? Do it at home, where you won't be spreading germs and sharing your sickness with other weight lifters, and give yourself a break by using lighter dumbbells than usual. (Increase your reps, not the weight, if you need more of a challenge, says Hulse.)
Best or Worst: Swimming and Biking
Swimming, for example, can feel quite refreshing, and may help open up airways. (For people who suffer from allergies, it can also help by washing away pollen and dust.) But some people may find it difficult to breathe while congested, or may be irritated by chlorinated waters. Biking can also be a nice, moderate exercise, but may dry out nasal passages and increase symptoms like sore throat and runny nose.
Worst: Team Sports
Cold and flu viruses spread through droplets, like tears and salivabut also through hand-to-hand contact, he adds. "If you wipe your nose and then you pass the ball, you've just passed those germs on, as well." A 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the sports teams are at high risk for outbreaks of the stomach flu norovirus among members.
Worst: Anything Outdoors in the Cold
What can happen, however, is that cold, dry air can restrict or irritate airwaystriggering a runny nose, coughing, or asthma-like symptoms, says Hulse. If you find that you are sensitive to these conditions, winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing might be even more difficult when you have a cold.
Plus: What about allergies?
Allergies to pollen and ragweed can make outdoor exercise difficult in the spring and fall, he adds, while allergies to dust, mold or harsh cleaners can be triggered by workouts at the gym or in other enclosed spaces. If you can pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, an antihistamine or other treatment can likely help you get back to your normal lifeand your normal workout routine.