Can You Sweat Out a Cold? Tips On Working Out When Sick

Published August 31, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <section> <p>It’s a myth most fitness-minded people live by: you wake up feeling sick, and decide the fastest way to rid yourself of symptoms is to “sweat it out” with a vigorous workout. And because the benefits of exercise are so immense, you might actually leave the gym—or living room—feeling better than you did before.</p> <p>But is sweating out a cold even possible? And is exercising when you have a cold or flu a good move for your health?</p> <p>In this article, we’ll answer these questions and offer up tips for getting back to normal ASAP.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Can You Sweat Out A Cold With Exercise?</header> <p>Unfortunately, the “stuff” you’re sweating out when your body gets warm is mostly water. Excreting water through sweat glands is your body’s way of cooling itself. Only about one percent of sweat is salt, and none of it is the virus or cold you’re trying to discard <sup>1</sup>.</p> <p>So no, you can’t really “sweat out” a cold by exercising.</p> <p>However, some light exercise may alleviate common symptoms of the flu or a cold, like opening up your nasal passages if they’re congested <sup>2</sup>.</p> <div class="sub-head">Can You Sweat out a Cold in a Sauna?</div> <p>If you’ve already caught the bug, a sauna isn’t going to speed up your recovery.</p> <p>Interestingly enough, though, regular exposure to the type of dry, hot air found in saunas can help prevent common colds <sup>3</sup>.</p> <p>So next time you need an excuse to hit the sauna, just tell your spouse or friend you’re doing it for your health.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="cold-sick-tea-mug-tissues"> </picture> <header>Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?</header> <p>There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. You can probably squeeze a workout in when battling a mild cold. And it might, depending on symptoms, help you feel better.</p> <p>But if you have an infection or are in the middle of a nasty flu, exercising is not advisable. </p> <p>The analogy below helps explain why.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Think About It This Way. . . (The “100 Credits” Analogy)</header> <p>When your body is healthy, it has about 100 “credits” per day to respond to—and recover from—stressors. Stressors include working out, family commitments, stress from work, and anything else that requires physical or mental effort. </p> <p>(Yes, exercise is a stressor—a good one when you’re healthy, but taxing nonetheless.)</p> <p>For someone living a balanced and healthy life, your body spends these 100 credits. By sleeping and practicing other healthy habits, you “replenish” those credits in time for the next day to start. You then start over with a fresh 100 credits to spend.</p> <p>When you push too hard, you “overdraw” your 100 credits. Just like a bank, overdrawing means you start the next day at a deficit—say 90 credits. You’ve now got a choice: either rest and replenish more that day or suffer because you’ve only got 90 credits and need 100 to function at your very best.</p> <p>If you’ve ever felt burned out or overworked, you know what it’s like to overspend your credits. It’s not fun. Eventually, your body gets to a point where you say “enough is enough,” and need a break.</p> <div class="sub-head">And When You’re Sick. . .</div> <p><i>When you’re sick</i>, your body operates with fewer credits. Plus, it’s spending a lot of those credits—say 50 or 60—on ridding itself of the cold, flu, or infection. If you’re very ill, it might even be more.</p> <p>(Don’t get hung up on specific numbers here; it’s a crude analogy. The point is, your body has fewer credits available than when you’re healthy.)</p> <p>So if you do a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">killer workout</a> when you’re sick, you might “overdraw” your 100 credits. In all likelihood, you’ll feel worse than before you worked out and be sick longer because you’re using up energy and resources that aren’t available.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="sick-home-couch-blanket"> </picture> <header>What Should You Take Away From This?</header> <p>Three things: </p> <ol> <li>Sorry, but you can’t “sweat out” that cold of yours. Sweat is mostly water and your body’s natural way of cooling itself. Exercise and saunas won’t miraculously cure you either.</li> <li>If you have a minor cold or feel slightly under the weather, a light workout is probably fine. You may feel better and reduce symptoms by sweating and breathing heavy.</li> <li>Hard workouts are a bad idea when you’re sick. They stress your body (in a good way, when you’re healthy), which is already in a limited state of resources because of a cold or infection. Chances are you’ll just stay sick longer.</li> </ol> <p>Basically, use your best judgment. If you’re <i>really</i> under the weather, don’t exercise. Instead, use the tips in the next section.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>How Do You Make a Cold Go Away Quickly?</header> <p>American adults wind up with two to three colds per year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) <sup>4</sup>. </p> <p>(We don’t know about you, but we’ll be giving a lot more fist bumps than handshakes going forward.)</p> <p>Knowing what you know now about colds and exercise, you’re probably wondering: What does make a cold go away quickly?</p> <p>Here are our four best tips for shaking off a cold or flu.</p> <div class="sub-head">1. Focus On Your Gut Health</div> <p>More and more, science is connecting <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">the microbiome</a>, or the little civilization of bacteria living in your gut, to how well your immune system can function. If you’re sick, feeding your gut some of the stuff it loves will go a long way toward you getting better.</p> <p>For gut health, look no further than <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">probiotics</a>. They promote good bacteria and wipe out the bad, and even might give you that boost of energy you’ve been lacking during illness.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="sleep-recovery-from-cold"> </picture> <div class="sub-head">2. Sleep</div> <p>Any conversation about recovery and healthy habits should start with <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">sleep</a>. It’s free, accessible to all, and a good night’s sleep is vital for health. </p> <p>During deep sleep, your body repairs tissues, restores brain function, and allows the immune system to focus on fighting off infections <sup>5</sup>. </p> <p>So shut off the lights and take a nap—it’s what the doctor ordered!</p> <div class="sub-head">3. Hydrate</div> <p>You might not be able to sweat out a cold, but replenishing lost fluids speeds up recovery and helps you feel better <sup>6</sup>. For one, having enough water in your body will loosen up congestion. </p> <p>Keep in mind that your body is fighting off an infection, meaning it’s using up lots of water. One reason you likely feel terrible with a cold is that you’re dehydrated. Drink up!</p> <div class="sub-head">4. Use Turmeric</div> <p><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Turmeric</a> not only fights off <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">joint inflammation</a>, but is a popular supplement for alleviating headache, colds, and congestion. </p> <p>Try adding some to your tea or taking it as a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">standalone supplement</a>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Can You Sweat Out A Cold?—Wrapping Up</header> <p>Often, demonstrating your commitment to lifelong health is about listening to your body. If you aren’t too under the weather, a light workout won’t kill you. But sweating out a cold isn’t possible—no matter how many push-ups you do!</p> <p>If you’re sick, focus on proven recovery methods like sleeping, hydrating and taking care of your gut health. Even consider supplements like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">turmeric</a>. Prioritizing recovery will get you back in the game as fast as possible!</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Sweating (Normal Amounts): Causes, Adjustments, and Complications</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Is It Possible to Sweat Out a Cold?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Regular sauna bathing and the incidence of common colds</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">How to Get Rid of a Cold</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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