Should you give your workouts the cold shoulder during cold season?
You’ve likely heard the “from the neck up” rule. That’s the idea that if you’re experiencing cold symptoms in your neck and your face and head, you should be okay to exercise. But if it’s below the neck – say in your lungs or body aches – then you should skip it.
But exercising and colds have a more complicated than this simple breakdown. And that’s why we connected with celebrity trainer Brent Bishop and registered dietitian Michelle Latinsky about whether you should work out when you’re sick. Read on to find out how your workout sesh can affect your immune system, spots at your gym or fitness studio to avoid, what to eat and how much to drink, how to modify your workout if you’re sick and if you really should work out at all.
How exactly does physical activity affect the immune system?
Science says that exercise boosts the immune system over the long term. But it can also make you sick in the short term.
The fitness expert says: “Intense exercise temporarily lowers your immune system,” says Bishop. “That’s why almost all marathoners, for example, get sick a few days after running a race. And while you’re working out and training your body harder, it may increase the risk of higher free-radical formation and oxidative stress. While that all sounds negative, the good effects of exercise clearly outweigh the bad.” Bishop says a healthy lifestyle and diet balances and supports the immune system.
What areas in the gym should you avoid if you’re sick?
The gym is where people move and sweat. So, yes, it has germs. But you can prevent getting sick if you take Bishop’s advice.
The fitness expert says: “You may find more bacteria inside a gym than inside a public restroom,” he says. “That’s because you have multiple people touching the equipment. The most germy will typically be the weight machine handles and dumbbells. The least germy will likely be the benches because there’s a clothing layer between you and the equipment.”
So what can you do? “To minimize contact with germs, wipe down benches and cardio equipment before and after using them,” says Bishop. “Don’t touch your fingers to your eyes, nose or mouth. And it’s critical to wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after your workout.”