Sweat A Cold–Don’t Feed It

by macdaddy on January 13, 2009 · 6 comments

A couple of years ago, I had to literally talk myself into getting exercise.  Unless it was a round of golf, or a pick up game of basketball, I would have to drag, or be drug, into the gym or onto the street for a workout.  Not anymore.  Now I look forward to the “me time” associated with working out–Pam, you didnÂ’t read that last sentence.

Nose BlowerHowever, whenever I get sick, I still try and talk myself out of exercising.  In the past, when I haven’t felt good, I’ve taken it as a sign that my body is trying to tell me that it’s time for a break.  I’ve had  cough, cold, and mild sinus infection for about 2 weeks now but I’ve still continued to work out.  I haven’t felt great at times.  In fact, the other day I actually stopped running.  But I just learned a few things in the New York Times that tells me I’m doing the right thing by continuing to exercise when I’m sick.

Neither exercise performance nor metabolic responses are adversely affected in those exercising with colds.  Psychologically, you may not feel great while doing it, but the latest research shows that you’re physically able to perform as well as when you feel perfectly healthy.  I’m not so sure this is true for elite athletes, but for the average Joe, I buy it.

Many people actually feel better while exercising with a cold.  The current research suggests that exercise doesn’t decrease recovery time.  It also doesn’t actually decrease the symptoms of your illness, but many people with a cold reported feeling better after working out.  This doesn’t work for me, but it may for you.

The research cited in this article, like many of the health and fitness articles I come across, was a very small study (only 45 participants).  So take it for what it’s worth.  I find it remarkable that there are so many studies out there in this field that get published with such small study samples.  In any case, it doesn’t sound like exercising will sick (unless you are really sick) is such a bad idea.  Maybe we should replace the old “feed a cold” idea with “sweat a cold.”  It can only help us lose a little bit more weight, right?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lauren January 13, 2009 at 11:57 am

On a similar note, the NYT also had an article recently about patients in intensive care. Doctors discovered that, contrary to everyone’s beliefs, having ICU patients get up and walk around at least once a day resulted in much quicker improvement and better general health once a patient got out of the ICU. The patients even felt better mentally when they had to get up and move around. So I agree that laying in bed all day isn’t best for a cold, as tempting as it may be.


2 Dan January 13, 2009 at 3:30 pm

For the average as you say it probably doesn’t make that much of a difference but for elite athletes i’m sure it does.

I go by this rule – if the illness is below the neck, i.e. the chest and lungs, don’t exercise. If it’s above the neck, i.e. nasal, then crack on till your heart’s content.


3 Leah January 13, 2009 at 4:40 pm

I totally agree! I’ve had a bad cold for about a week and a half now, and I’ve managed to exercise half those days. I did take three days off when my cold was particularly bad (but I also took time off work and couldn’t really get out of bed). Other than that, it’s been business as usual at the gym. I actually enjoy it, as some walking/running on the treadmill gets my snot moving and helps me clear out my nasal passages.


4 AndrewE January 14, 2009 at 1:31 am

I too live by the rule that a headcold is fine but if it’s in the chest I need to rest.


5 Shrinkingdad January 16, 2009 at 8:30 am

Agree with the comments above largely, but it probably isn’t that simple. In reality, “a cold”can be any of hundreds or thousands of constantly mutating viruses. I heard that you never get the same one twice because you’re immune, but it’s the mutations that make it impossible to vaccinate against.

I’ve had seemingly minor colds where I’ve gone out for a walk and could hardly put one foot in front of the other after 10 minutes. Equally I’ve had streaming colds where I’ve gone for a stiff walk and it’s given me a good clear-out, and I’ve come back feeling loads better (though the feeling doesn’t necessarily last long). I think it depends on the specific strain. My view is that the best bet is to try excercise, but start gentle and build up. If it makes you feel like death, listen to your body and call it a day. Excercise doesn’t need to be torture, certainly not if you are doing it mostly for weight loss and general fitness.


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