According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) several studies show adults who exercise get sick less and have a shorter cold duration. But if you do get sick, how do you ease back into your normal exercise routine after taking a break?
Take Vitamin C
Vitamin C does not prevent the common cold so you don't need to take a daily supplement unless directed by your doctor or dietitian, but it can help shorten the duration of time you are sick. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C--as well as many other nutrients such as antioxidants, minerals and other vitamins. Some examples of high vitamin C fruits and vegetables are oranges, cantaloupe, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and raw green and red bell peppers.
If you regularly engage in moderate to high-intensity exercise, lowering the intensity of your exercise may make it easier to resume higher-intensity workouts once you feel better. ACSM says engaging in low to moderate-intensity exercise with the common cold may seem counter-intuitive, but it can be beneficial.
Depending on your symptoms, you can continue exercising during your cold--as long as you engage in low or moderate-intensity exercise and your symptoms are above the neck (i.e. a runny nose and sore throat without fever or muscle aches and pains). According to ACSM, several studies found that adults who walked briskly five days per week experienced approximately 50 percent fewer days with common cold symptoms than sedentary adults. This indicates that regular mild exercise, even while sick, can shorten your cold.
Some studies even say moderate exercise while sick is beneficial according to ACSM.
According to a study on marathon runners, the immune system weakens for six to nine hours after intensive exercise. Intensive exercise should be avoided until a few days after your symptoms subside. If you have more serious symptoms including fever, muscle aches and pains, swollen lymph glands or extreme tiredness, ACSM recommends rest and waiting two to four weeks before resuming intensive exercise.
Be Careful When Touching Gym Equipment
The common cold virus is transmitted through hand-to-face contact or inhalation of the virus through your nose or mouth. If you have cold symptoms, shorten the duration and avoid exacerbation of your symptoms with prevention. If you use machines to exercise--especially public machines--keep in mind the cold virus can live on surfaces for hours and you can contract it if you touch the surface with the virus and then touch your face.
Avoid touching your face while at the gym and avoid being around people who are coughing, nose-blowing and sneezing to avoid accidentally inhaling the cold virus. The ACSM recommends using surface disinfectants such as Lysol to clean hard surfaces and kill cold-causing bacteria and viruses. Many gyms and health clubs provide disinfectant wipes you can use before and after using a machine. Wash your hands frequently as you may touch door-knobs, handle bars or other surfaces containing the cold virus or bacteria.
How You Can Get Your Workout Despite the Winter Chill
Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.