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Can You Work Out If You Have a Cold?

Here's Why You Shouldn't Try to "Sweat Out" Your Cold in a Group Fitness Class

You've probably heard that "sweating out a cold" will relieve your unpleasant symptoms and help you feel better. Or maybe you are so excited for your group fitness class, you can't possibly cancel, even if you're not feeling well.

If you're considering showing up to a workout class while sniffling, sneezing, and fighting off a headache, you should reconsider — we spoke to some experts to find out whether or not it's a good idea to hit a boutique fitness class if you're feeling under the weather.

How Contagious Are You When You Have a Cold?

The symptoms of a cold may vary person to person, but the most common ones are runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and a headache. With all that phlegm and snot dripping out of your body, you're bound to spread your sick germs to other people.


"You are most contagious to others the first few days of your symptoms, and even the day before, but there is little you can do about that," internist Arielle Levitan, MD, told POPSUGAR. She explained that cold germs are most contagious via touching infected secretions, such as mucous and saliva, but not so much with tears and sweat. Colds are also somewhat contagious with germs in the air like from sneezing and coughing.

Edo Paz, MD, a doctor with the free primary care app K Health, echoed that the cold and flu, which are caused by viruses, are extremely contagious. "You should minimize proximity to other people while you have a cold, and if you absolutely must be around others, be sure to contain your germs by coughing into your elbows, washing your hands frequently, and throwing away your used tissues," he said.

Can You Work Out When You're Feeling Sick?

Even if you're feeling under the weather, you may feel like you're well enough to exercise. Kenton Fibel, MD, family medicine physician at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, said that the above-the-neck/below-the-neck rule is a helpful guide as to whether or not you should work out with a cold.

"Typically, above-the-neck symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, or congestion are OK to work out with, but below-the-neck symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath, or muscle aches should be a sign that you should let your body rest and recover. If you have a fever, you should also try to avoid significant exercise."

So while you can work out if you have above-the-neck symptoms, you shouldn't go too hard; Dr. Fibel said if you work out too hard when you're sick, it can make it more difficult for your body to fight off infection and will take you longer to get better.

So, Should You Go to a Group Fitness Class With a Cold?

"As a doctor of internal medicine I would say that you can work out if you feel up to it," Dr. Levitan said. Dr. Fibel also said that overall exercise does improve your immune system. However, just because you can work out doesn't mean you should go to a gym or boutique fitness class, and potentially get other people sick.

"Every cold and flu season, I see people coming to the gym," NASM-certified personal trainer Allan Misner told POPSUGAR. "It is disturbing to see them hacking, coughing, and sneezing while they're using the treadmills, ellipticals, and other machines." Not to mention group fitness classes where you are using shared equipment and in such a small space with potentially dozens of other people. Instead, Allan encourages people to work out at home if they have a cold, maybe with a bodyweight workout or home cardio equipment.

In fact, family and emergency medicine doctor Janette Nesheiwat, MD, recommends not working out at all when you are feeling sick. "Let your body heal," she told POPSUGAR.

"You can make yourself more sick; a cold can turn into a pneumonia and you can pick up more bugs when you are ill," Dr. Nesheiwat explained. "If you are exercising in a group setting, you are likely contaminating the gym equipment and your fellow gym-goers." She recommends staying home to recover and drinking lots of fluids, including hot tea, taking zinc, and resting.

Sounds like you're better off waiting until you feel at 100 percent to get back into the gym. After all, who needs an excuse to stay home and watch Netflix?

Image Source: Getty / Sam Edwards
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