The pounding headache, the total body fatigue, the sensitivity to smell, sights and sounds and the overall general feeling of malaise that accompanies a hangover usually makes for a pretty rough morning, if not the entire day. That’s why most people prefer to be lounging horizontally with their eyes shut as their body recovers from a night of drinking. And it’s safe to say that, whether you’re a fitness newbie or a fitness pro, one of the last things on your wishlist is usually working out. We asked the experts, does exercise help a hangover?
But, according to fitness pros, getting a little exercise in on a day when you’re feeling hungover may just be the quick fix you’re looking for so you can start feeling like yourself again. “The most immediate benefit of exercising is taking your mind off your suffering while your body begins to recover, and releasing endorphins,” explains Cary Raffle, C.P.T., an orthopedic exercise specialist in New York City. “Breaking a light sweat while hydrating promotes flushing out toxins, and the activity stimulates your appetite, and getting in some proper nutrition can also help reduce your feelings of being hungover.”
What’s actually happening in your body when you’re hungover?
Do understand the benefits of working out when you’re hungover, it helps to understand what’s actually going on inside your body when you’ve drank too much alcohol the day before. When you’ve had too many drinks, your body is working in overtime to make up for the inflammation alcohol is causing inside your stomach that’s making you feel nauseous, dehydrated and with a panging headache. “Alcohol initially dilates the blood vessels, but as you drink more it constricts them and its lingering effects on your nervous system can include nystagmus, constant movement of the eyes similar to those experienced in REM sleep, which causes dizziness, nausea and light sensitivity,” explains Raffle. “Your heart rate and blood pressure may be elevated, blood sugar is low, you probably did not sleep well so you’re tired, and you might feel a little down.”
Another major dysregulation that happens when you drink alcohol: You have trouble breaking down acetaldehyde fast enough, which essentially translates into acetaldehyde toxicity. “Alcohol is toxic to the nerves outside the brain and our extracellular matrix, called fascia, pays a price for our choice to drink too much,” Sue Hitzmann, M.S., C.S.T., N.M.T, exercise physiologist and creator of the MELT Method®, explains. “We transport nutrients and alcohol through the extracellular matrix and into cells, but if fluid profusion through the matrix is altered and the adaptations in a part of the brain called the hippocampus remain in the morning, you ultimately get symptoms that range from feeling bloated the next day to a screaming headache.”
How does exercise help a hangover?
Here’s a look at some of the ways you can expect to benefit from getting a sweat sesh in when you’re hungover.
Boost in your mood
It is well-documented that exercise helps improve mood, even short bouts lasting just a few minutes, notes Tom Holland, C.S.N., exercise physiologist, certified sports nutritionist and fitness expert. “Getting the blood and feel-good hormones, like dopamine and serotonin, flowing from exercise can help mitigate the negative effects of a hangover,” he says.
In addition to the mood-boosting effects of the feel-good hormones, Holland points out that exercise also causes the release of endorphins that help decrease the perception of pain. “Endorphins bind to certain receptors on the brain to help with that headache and body aches as well,” he says. “Once again, while it seems that exercise would exacerbate the symptoms of a hangover, it can significantly help lessen them.”
If there’s one thing you can use when you’re hungover, it’s more energy. Luckily, exercise can help you harness, even when you’ve gotten too little sleep the night before. “As counterintuitive as it may seem, getting in a workout while hungover can help significantly boost your energy levels,” says Holland. “A slow 30-minute run will give you more energy than watching Netflix in bed for three hours, especially when hungover.”
Tips for working out when hungover?
Here are some tried-and-true tips from the experts for how to have a safe and effective workout when you’re hungover.
Take it easy
Expelling some bodily fluids post an evening of too much drinking can help to make you feel better sooner than later, but Hitzmann warns against going too hard. “It may not be the day to take a HIIT class or run, but a quick workout on a stationary bike or elliptical machine can work wonders,” she says. “Do short intervals rather than trying to push yourself too hard for a duration, or try moderate cardio like a brisk walk in nature.”
Listen to your body
“As hangovers often cause cognitive impairment and mild physical impairment as well, it is best to engage in safer forms of exercise,” says Holland. “Choose less intense, more controlled activities such as going for a long walk or a half hour on the elliptical instead and always listen to your body—if it feels like it’s too much, it probably is.”
Grab a friend
“There is power in numbers when it comes to exercise, especially when your motivation is severely compromised from the effects of a hangover,” says Holland. He recommends enlisting the company of a friend or two to help you overcome your martini malaise, especially those with whom you imbibed with the night before.