A touch of the sniffles doesn’t have to land you on the sidelines. Here’s the bottom line on which workouts work wonders when you’re not feeling your best
For our parents’ generation, the first sign of a cold meant taking to your bed to rest and recuperate. These days, our dilemma isn’t whether or not to lie around for a few days; most of us are so busy that’s out of the question. Still, should you take your usual step class or go for your customary three-mile run when you’re feeling under the weather or will you get healthy more quickly if you put your fitness regimen on the back burner while you let your body fight off the bug? The experts say it depends on what ails you.
“The basic rule of thumb is if your symptoms are below the neck, then you should not exercise,” notes San Diego-based family physician and sports medicine specialist, Allen Richburg, M.D. “If your muscles ache, if you’re feeling weak, if you have a deep cough and/or fever, don’t exercise,” he says. If your symptoms are above the neck-if you have nothing worse than a minor cough or a sore throat with no fever, and your energy level is normal-it’s probably okay to work out; just let your body be your guide.
In fact, on some occasions a workout could be beneficial, says Ralph LaForge, an exercise physiologist from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. “If you’re at the tail end of a cold, moderate aerobic exercise can be prudent respiratory therapy. You’ll increase air flow through the bronchia and bring up sputum, so you’ll start to feel better-although your cough may sound worse,” he cautions.
Don’t hop back onto that treadmill too fast. It’s important to take it easy during your recovery phase. If the weather is mild, LaForge suggests walking on variable terrain or cycling at about 40 to 60 percent of your maximum effort and getting lots of fresh air. If your muscles feel fine, you can resume routine weight training. Running, however, is probably too strenuous for the average person, he notes. He also warns against aerobics classes because “you have to follow the group’s intensity when you really need to be in complete control. “Smarter options, says Richburg, include restful exercises that stretch your muscles, such as basic hatha yoga and gentle tai chi. If you do head to a class or gym, be sure you’re really at the tail end of your cold and not contagious.
When you begin post-illness exercise, pay close attention to body signals. “Any time you have a virus on board, it affects your whole body,” explains LaForge. “It can affect the heart in ways that don’t cause symptoms but add extra strain. If you’re relaxed and rested, this won’t have any significance, but if you max your [heart’s] workload, you’re at risk. There are well-known case studies of exercise and virus-induced cardiac events.” To play it safe, Richburg advises stopping your physical activity if you notice any shortness of breath, heart palpitations, body aches and/or if you tire easily.