If you’re coming down with a cold or the flu, it’s not always easy to know if you should work out or not. During cold and flu season, it’s important to be mindful of exercising too hard and working out in cold weather. Here’s what you should know about exercising during the fall and winter months, when getting a cold or the flu virus can be more common:
Exercise can protect you from getting sick — and also make you more vulnerable to illness
Generally, people who exercise on a regular basis get sick less often. However, some studies have shown that engaging in intense exercise, such as a long run or a grueling gym routine, could make you more susceptible to viruses.
When you exercise vigorously, your immune system becomes stressed and weaker for several hours after the workout. Let your body rest a day or two between these more intense workouts and make sure to avoid germs, like by washing your hands often and disinfecting surfaces in your home, at work and at the gym.
Make sure to bundle up when exercising outside
It’s actually a myth that cold or rainy weather increases your chances of getting an infection. Generally, it is safe to exercise in cold weather as long as you’re properly dressed. If you are exercising outdoors during the winter months, be sure to dress in layers to avoid overheating. Don’t wear cotton clothing (which retains moisture and can make you feel colder once you start sweating) and instead opt for a synthetic fabric, which wicks moisture away. Before going outside, make sure your head, neck, hands and feet are properly covered up.
Modify your workout routine depending on how you feel
If you have a cold but your symptoms aren’t that serious (like having a runny nose or sneezing), it’s usually okay to continue with your regular fitness routine. Just don’t overdo it, as working out too hard could worsen your symptoms or lengthen your illness in some cases. If you’re feeling under the weather, stick with light-to-moderate types of exercise until your health improves and you’re feeling better. If you have a cold along with a fever, chest congestion or flu-like symptoms, take a break from working out until you get your energy back.
To prevent getting sick, take steps to stop the spread of germs at the gym
We often think about offices or schools as places where germs spread easily during cold and flu season. Gyms can also be a hotbed for germs, so it’s important be aware of contracting viruses from people who might be working out near you. Disinfect gym equipment, wash your hands regularly, bring your own water bottle, and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth while at the gym.
Another way to defend yourself against the flu during the fall and winter months is to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all persons age six months and older get the flu vaccine annually. The best time to get a flu shot is in October, as the flu season tends to run from early fall through May.
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