Have you ever heard of “sweating out” the alcohol? Let’s debunk the myth of exercise as a hangover cure.
Hands up who always seems to end up with a diary full of plans, from work drinks in the evening to early morning workouts with your gym buddy? It’s true that getting in your exercise and your socialising is somewhat of a balancing act, and often means we end up in spin classes or the weights room the morning after a somewhat boozy night.
There’s a common myth that ’sweating it out’ is the best thing for you on a hangover, with many swearing by their morning-after run or HIIT circuit. But how good is it to jump from wine bar to gym floor?
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Does a hangover make exercise harder?
One of the major symptoms of a hangover is dehydration. That’s because alcohol is a diuretic, causing the body to lose more water than it takes in.
Given that our bodies are at least 50% water “we need to be hydrated to feel well,” says Emma Obayuvana, trainer from the Strong Women Collective. “Dehydration when working out is tough. Not only does it make the exercise itself feel harder, but by sweating you’re causing even more water loss, worsening dehydration.”
Personal trainer Janine George points out that when people experience a hangover they very often also suffer from dizziness, headaches and nausea. “This can make it very challenging to negotiate exercise. As well as having the potential to make some symptoms worse, working out when hungover is likely to restrict you from giving your best and could risk injury.”
“For an intense workout to be sustainable, you need substantial energy reserves and to be hydrated,” adds George. “This is not the case if you are suffering from a hangover.”
Rather, when hungover, “we are physically and mentally fatigued and less coordinated than usual,” says Obayuvana. “People often think they can sweat out the hangover, but the last thing you want to do is push the body to extremes when it is already low.”
Research supports this: a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that “hungover participants experienced significantly more exhaustion when performing physical activity at the same level as non-hungover participants.”
But while you might feel worse, does it do any damage? There is not a huge amount of research on this topic, but the general consensus is that your body is working really hard to get rid of toxins that are being broken down in your body. Intense movement adds another chore to its to-do list and is extra stress that your body probably won’t cope well with.
Plus, if you are already lacking in hydration, losing more fluid through sweat is never a good idea.
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Can gentle exercise help hangover symptoms?
So sweating it out clearly isn’t the way forward. But Obayuvana explains that more gentle exercise can help alleviate symptoms. “A walk in fresh air or some gentle stretching can feel good when you feel run down,” she says.
This is George’s recommended mode of training for those suffering with a hangover, too. “A walk might be preferable to sitting down all day with the attempt to nurse the symptoms as movement allows your body to reconnect mentally and physically,” she says.
As alcohol is a physical stress on your body, activating your immune response, being gentle to your body is key to improve your hangover symptoms and have the most effective workout.
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