December 5, 2019

Tips for Exercising and Staying Healthy during Cold and Flu Season

Woman having headache after working out in a health clubBy Benjamin Heyen, MD, Primary Care

Worried about cold or flu impacting your exercise regimen? It can be frustrating when you’re feeling under the weather and don’t have the energy to work out. And sometimes, that cold weather may increase your motivation for a cozy night in instead of making it to the gym or doing your daily run.

Should you rest or tough it out? Is it safe to exercise in the cold? Here are some tips and tricks for safe and healthy exercise during cold and flu season.

Can exercise protect me from a cold or flu – or make me more susceptible?

Although people who exercise regularly generally get sick less often, sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. Some studies show that intense exercise—like a two-hour run or grueling gym workout—may make you more vulnerable to viruses because after vigorous exercise, your immune system becomes stressed and weaker for a short period of time.

  • Be extra-careful to avoid germs during this time.
  • Get plenty of rest between workouts.
  • Nourish and refuel your body with food and liquids before and after every workout to help your body recover.

What about working out in the cold?

The notion that cold or rainy weather ups your chances of an infection is a myth. In general, it’s safe to exercise in cold weather as long as you’re properly dressed. Try these cold-weather attire tips:

  • Dress in layers—avoid cotton clothing, which retains moisture and may make you colder once you start sweating.
  • Opt for synthetic fabric, such as polypropylene, which wicks away moisture.
  • Cover your core, head, neck, ears, hands, feet and limbs properly.

If I’m sick, when should I take a break from exercise?

It’s important to listen to your body. If you have a cold but your symptoms aren’t too severe (i.e., runny nose or sneezing), it’s usually fine to stick with your fitness routine. Try not to overdo the workout, though—it may worsen your symptoms and in some cases lengthen the illness. If you’re feeling less than 100 percent, stick to light-to-moderate exercise (e.g., walking) until you start feeling better.

But if your cold is accompanied by a fever, chest congestion (making it hard to breathe) or flu-like symptoms, it’s best to sit out your workout for a few days and rest until you’re feeling reenergized and won’t risk spreading germs at the gym.

How can I avoid germs at the gym to avoid getting sick?

Some of the top spots where cold and flu germs lurk at the gym are interior door handles and gym equipment (think dumbbells, free-weight benches, and cardio and weight-training machines). And while most germs won’t make you sick, it’s better to be cautious.

Avoid germs at the gym with these tips:

  • Bring your own water bottle and avoid the water fountain.
  • Shower or wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after hitting the gym or gym equipment.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Wipe down gym equipment before and after use to avoid the last guy’s germs, while also leaving things clean for the next person.

Just like you don’t want to pick up any germs at the gym, people don’t want to catch them from you either! Sometimes it’s inevitable, but stay home when you are sick.

So, during this winter season, remember to stay hydrated, eat healthy and continue to exercise, which will help boost your immune system in the long run. If you ever have questions about your illness or are wondering if you should continue to exercise, don’t hesitate to ask your primary care physician.

Benjamin Heyen, MD, Family Medicine Physician at Mission Community Medicine Old Fort.

Establishing an early relationship with a primary care physician allows you to focus on prevention and health. Learn more about primary care at