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How to Exercise Safely During Cold and Flu Season

How to Exercise Safely During Cold and Flu Season

Should you hit the gym when you’re sick? Here’s how to tell.

Worried about coming down with a cold or flu and what that can mean for your exercise regimen? Feeling under the weather and don't have the energy to work out? Here’s what you need to know about exercising this cold and flu season.

Can exercise protect me from a cold or flu—or make me more susceptible?
Although people who exercise regularly generally get sick less often, sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. Some studies show that long bouts of intense exercise—like a 90-minute run—may make you more vulnerable to viruses. This is because after you exercise vigorously, your immune system becomes stressed and weaker for several hours. So be extra-careful to avoid germs during this time. And also be sure to squeeze in at least a day or two between tough workouts.

What about working out in the cold?
The notion that cold or rainy weather ups your chances of an infection is a myth. So in general, it's safe to exercise in cold weather as long as you're properly dressed. If you do head out, try:

  • Dressing in layers to avoid overheating
  • Avoiding cotton clothing, which retains moisture and may make you colder once you start sweating
  • Opting for synthetic fabric, such as polypropylene, which wicks away moisture
  • Covering your head, neck, hands and feet properly

If I'm sick, when should I take a break from exercise?
There's really no right or wrong answer for this question—it all depends on how you feel, which is why it's important to listen to your body. Exercise is usually OK if your symptoms are all "above the neck." These signs and symptoms include those you may have with a common cold, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. Try not to overdo the workout, though—it may worsen your symptoms and, in some cases, lengthen the illness. If you're feeling less than 100 percent, stick to light-to-moderate exercise (i.e., walking) until you start feeling better.

But, if your cold is accompanied by a fever, chest congestion (making it hard to breathe) or flu-like symptoms, it's best to sit your workout out for a few days until you're feeling re-energized.

How can I avoid germs at the gym to avoid getting sick?
Gyms are a hotbed of germs. Some of the top spots where cold and flu germs lurk are interior door handles and gym equipment (think dumbbells, free-weight benches and cardio and weight-training machines). And while most germs won't make you sick, it's better to be cautious.

Check out these tips to avoid gym germs:

  • Bring your own water bottle and avoid the water fountain. (When was the last time you saw the fountain cleaned? Exactly.).
  • Shower or wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after hitting the gym.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Wipe down gym equipment before and after use to avoid the last guy’s germs, while also leaving things clean for the next person.

Medically reviewed in June 2019. Updated in October 2019.

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