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Health and beauty
February 2024
Reading time 6 Minutes

When you don't feel great it's easy to look for excuses not to workout. But would a bit of exercise actually make us feel better? Or worse?

Here's when to workout and when not to (and a few other common health myths debunked for good measure).

Obviously no-one can tell how you are feeling except for you, and there’s no doubt that we all deal with sickness differently. But there’s a healthy school of thought that says, despite what your mother may have told you, that exercising when you have a mild infection can make you feel a whole lot better. Gentle movement can help boost your immune system and release endorphins (the feel-good hormones).

Great news for anyone who wants to get up and go. But what if that’s not what makes you tick and you are more of the stay indoors and binge-watch Netflix when a cold creeps on kinda person? Well the good news is that sometimes that’s not such a bad idea. When we are unwell, a lot of our energy is taken up with fighting infection so strenuous exercise may deplete too much of our energy levels and make us feel worse. But how do you know what the best thing to do is to help you feel better?

Read More: The Best Beauty Buys for February

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Exercising too hard when fighting illness means it might take your body longer to recover and fight off the infection. But this idea needs to be balanced with the feel-good factor some get from moving their bodies and working out.

Colds come in many forms, and different levels of severity and symptoms. What a cold does do however, is send your body’s immune system into overdrive, which can leave you feeling more tired and unable to perform to the same level as normal. If you are running a temperature then that too will impact on any workout as you won’t be able to regulate your body temperature in the same way as normal. The idea of sweating it out is not necessarily a good one, nor is it backed by science. What is important is to stay hydrated when you are under the weather.

One common rule on when to exercise is if all your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, ear ache, sore throat etc) then it’s usually safe to work out, but stick to simpler, light cardio rather than pushing yourself too hard – or even just go for a brisk walk as fresh air will help clear the head and soak up some much-needed vitamin D. Anything below the neck, such as a chest infection, means you should probably have a duvet day (or two). It is also important to consider where you workout. Going to a busy gym when you could be contagious is hardly sensible, but wrapping up warm and heading out for a walk is an entirely different prospect.

But can working out make you much worse? Technically no, but both sickness and exercise are both forms of stress on the body. Too much stress and we all know the outcome, plus if you are sick you are unlikely to be able to perform to your usual strength which can be frustrating, and more stressful!

How long you take off of course will depend on the severity of your symptoms but the best test is just to listen to your body, and once you hit the gym or start your workout again don’t expect to be back to peak fitness immediately. Even if you’ve only had relatively mild symptoms, the experts advise starting again gently.

Health Myths Debunked

From your mother telling you not to go out with wet hair as you’ll catch a cold, to putting butter on a burn, here are five popular health myths we’re busting for you.

Going Out with Wet Hair Means You’ll Catch a Cold
A longtime favourite of many parents and grandparents, never-the-less it’s not true. You would need to be harbouring a virus for it to make any difference and you can’t catch a virus from wet hair. But it’s not all good news. The cold is very bad for your hair as it is much more vulnerable when wet and in cold weather the water molecules in your hair can expand and cause it to break. It’s also not advisable to sleep with wet hair as that can encourage bacteria to breed, which can cause breakouts on your skin.

Cracking Joints Can Give You Arthritis
Not true. The painless cracking of joints may be annoying for those around you (possibly why the myth came into being, to discourage the practice) but it won’t do any permanent harm. When the joint moves or is pulled a vacuum is created and the cracking noise is simply a nitrogen gas bubble being pulled in and popped in the joint, so you can crack away if you want to.

Eating Chocolate Gives You Spots
Again probably more of an old wive’s tale, as all the impressively large amount of research done on the link between chocolate and acne has proved inconclusive. A good skin diet is simply a healthy, balanced diet and there’s no reason to exclude chocolate – although most doctors agree sticking to dark chocolate with a higher level of cocoa (over 70 percent) and less sugar is better for everyone.

Apply Butter to a Burn
Don’t. Greasy home-made remedies such as butter or mayonnaise trap heat in the skin which will continue to burn (ouch!). Also avoid putting ice directly onto a burn as the extreme cold can damage the surface of the skin even more. The best advice is to run under cool water for 20 minutes or more if you can, and don’t pop the blister when it forms.

Drink Eight Glasses of Water a Day
We’ve all been told we need to drink litres of water per day to be healthy, but newer research disagrees. How much you hydrate depends on your activity level and the temperature of your environment. There is no magical ‘set’ amount to drink to make you feel and/or perform better. Your body does need fluid but not necessarily eight glasses or two litres or whatever you’ve been told. If your urine is light you can rest assured you are probably properly hydrated.

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