If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in the health and wellness space, it’s that not every catchy phrase spewing words of wisdom is legit. For example, raise your hand (or not, since I can’t see you anyway) if you’ve heard the saying “sweat a cold.” Well, you can forget it, because it doesn’t mean what you think it does. Sweating out a cold is different than working up a sweat when you have a cold. The two aren't quite one and the same, so if you ask your doctor, they’ll likely give you the go-ahead to exercise with the sniffles, but they aren’t exactly prescribing daily workouts to cure your illness.
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, it’s really hard to pull me away from working out, even when I feel under the weather. Call it what you want to, but I believe fitness, like food, is a natural source of medicine for our bodies, but I can still acknowledge when it’s time to take a rest. Fighting off the case of the sniffles, however, isn’t that time, which is exactly what, I think, gets people confused about this idea of sweating out a cold.
Believe it or not, this idea of “sweating out a cold” dates back to Roman times, so the rumor’s been circulating for quite a while.
Not to be cheesy, but I’m going to be cheesy and quote Lindsay Lohan when I say I'm tired of rumors starting, especially in the wellness space. Your health isn't something to experiment with or take lightly, but once an idea or phrase catches on, people are quick to believe whatever sounds good. This clearly isn’t a new concept, either.
Dr. Danica Barron, assistant medical director at ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., explains that “sweating out a cold” isn’t anything new. In fact, the thought process behind it all dates all the way back to ancient Roman times, when people were afraid of fevers because they didn’t have the technology or knowledge to figure out what they were or how they start.
“Ancient Romans had at least three temples of febris dedicated to worshipping a god of fever and would try to appease this god by leaving amulets which had been attached to the bodies of fever-stricken patients,” Dr. Barron tells Elite Daily. “This notion continued until the 1900s when we gained a better understanding of how diseases worked, and when you cured the underlying illness, the fever would go away.”
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from attaching amulets to our feverish bodies as a sacrifice to gods in order to get better, but the truth still stands: sweat’s not the answer, friends.
You can work out if you have a cold (make sure you double-check with your doctor though, just to be sure), but working up a sweat doesn’t actually do much for curing the infection.
Here's the thing about viral infections: Once you’ve been exposed, it’s going to run its course, whether you like it or not. There are plenty of things you can do to ease symptoms, of course — like sticking to a basic diet of chicken soup and toast, drinking plenty of herbal tea, and going to bed on time — but, either way, the infection starts and ends on its own terms.
As far as exercise goes, FitWell spokesperson Ben Jones says that, to his knowledge, there's no solid evidence that says you can sweat out a cold. Exercising when you have a cold can, however, make you feel a little better. “Some people get a buzz after exercise from the endorphins that are released by the exercise,” he tells Elite Daily. “This could make them feel better and give the impression that the cold is improving.”
In other words, it’s more of a mentality thing than anything else. When you catch a cold, your number one priority should be rest, so Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand, suggests waiting at least 48 hours after the onset of a cold or flu-related fever before hitting up the gym.
The whole point of exercising — you know, besides toning and gaining muscle and all that — is to strengthen your immune system. Sticking to a regular routine is an excellent way to prevent sickness, but when you’re already sick, exercise can put more stress on your body and actually lower your body's immunity and ability to ward off illness. It sounds counterintuitive, right? That's because it is.
“If you have a cold and have not been resting or eating and drinking regularly because you have been sick,” Dr. Tong tells Elite Daily, “then you could risk getting dehydrated and you should never exercise when you are dehydrated. Doing so can lower blood pressure dangerously and cause loss of consciousness.”
So if you have cold, it's in your best interest to take a rest day or two and focus on more effective ways to recover.
Now that we know sweating out a cold is just an illusion, let's focus on all the things that can get us through a viral infection.
Obviously, drinking a ton of fluids and getting enough rest are a given, but how you go about resting is also important. If you're the type of person who, like me, cannot sit still, I highly suggest giving it your best shot when you're under the weather. Better yet, don't just lie on the couch watching Netflix all day; take a nap.
Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach and founder of Sleep Zoo, says the main thing your body needs to ward off a cold is *surprise* sleep. When you snooze, your immune system is performing the three Rs: resting, regrouping, and reenergizing. Additionally, Brantner tells Elite Daily, your body adjusts its sleep cycle during sickness, allowing for more "slow-wave sleep to fight the infection." In other words, feel free to press snooze when you're feeling sniffly.
This tip might come off as random, but you may also want to consider stopping by your local florist and picking up a plant that helps you sleep better. Yes, that's actually a thing. It turns out, plants that look pretty and smell divine — like chamomile, lavender, snake plants, and even aloe vera — are natural air-purifiers that get rid of any toxins or bacteria floating around, which can make you feel sick. They're also deliciously aromatic, and act as mild sedatives to soothe your body and lull you to sleep. Snoozing and lovely smells?Sounds like the perfect road to recovery to me.