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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Exercising When Sick: A Good Move?

You're not feeling your best. Should you exercise when sick or sit this one out? How to decide.
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How Long Will You Be Sidelined?

An uncomplicated cold in an adult should be totally gone in about seven days, says Schachter, the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu.

A flu that develops complications such as bronchitis or sinusitis can last two weeks, he says. "The symptoms of cough and congestion can linger for weeks if not treated." In general, the flu, even if uncomplicated, can make you feel pretty rotten for 10 days to two weeks.

Prevention Prescription

The best way to avoid the problem is not to get sick in the first place.

Exercise in general can help boost your body's natural defenses against illness and infection, Schachter says. "Thirty minutes of regular exercise three to four times a week has been shown to raise immunity by raising levels of T cells, which are one of the body's first defenses against infection. However, intense 90-minute training sessions like those done by elite athletes can actually lower immunity."

Gym Etiquette When Exercising With a Cold

It's one thing if you decide to exercise when sick, but how do you keep from spreading it to others in the gym? And what about you if they are the ones exercising with a cold?

"Be careful that you are not blowing your nose constantly. And you should be using a towel and putting it down on every surface you touch and wiping it off when you are done," says Equinox's Coopersmith.

"The value of hand washing cannot be overstated," Schachter says. "I recommend washing hands before and after using the restroom, before meals, after using public transportation, and after returning home from school or work."

Also carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel in your gym bag to use when you realize that you have come into contact with someone who is sneezing or coughing.

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Reviewed on October 23, 2007

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