PUMPING IRONY: A Cure for the Common Cold

When you’re battling the common cold, a little exercise is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m a little more than a week removed from battling a nasty cold and, as a result, I’m pretty much having to restart my whole fitness regimen. OK, I’m exaggerating, but as anyone who’s been laid low by these seasonal viruses will tell you, heading for the gym is not at the top of your list when you barely have enough energy to walk upright to the kitchen for yet another cup of chicken soup. All you’re thinking about is recovery.

So I skipped basketball and mostly avoided my morning kettlebell and bodyweight routine, fearing that too much intensity would land me back on the couch. I know my body pretty well, and I don’t argue with it when it seems to be telling me to take it easy.

Now, however, I think I should’ve put up more of a fight. I’m out of my regular routine, for one thing, and inertia has set in. And I’m learning that maintaining your regimen when you have a cold might actually help you feel better.

As Gina Kolata points out in this New York Times piece, there haven’t been many studies that examine the effects of exercise on the common cold, but the research that has been conducted suggests that you shouldn’t just let yourself collapse when you’re fighting that bug. One study, from Ball State University, showed that athletic performance was not impaired by the cold virus and that those who did exercise may not have recovered any sooner than those who stayed on the couch, but they felt like they did.

There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind: If your cold symptoms include fever and muscle aches, you might want to back off a bit. And if you’re taking a decongestant or other cold medications, vigorous exercise could cause your heart rate to spike. Generally speaking, if you push yourself too hard you can suppress your immune system and make it more likely that your annoying cold turns into a more serious upper respiratory tract infection.

So listen to your body, by all means, but don’t avoid exercise altogether. I didn’t start feeling better this time around until I got out of the house and trekked across the river and up the hill to the office. Nothing like a little wind chill to make you feel more alive.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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