There are so many things to celebrate and enjoy this time of year, but one that most of us would be happy to go without are the hangovers that tend to follow a night out. Whether you were imbibing cocktails at your office holiday party or cheersing bubbly champagne with your close friends and family for New Year’s Eve, what almost always tends to follow an alcohol-drenched evening is a pain-stabbing and lethargic hangover.
Not only are hangovers unpleasant, but they can totally throw a wrench in any workout and dietary goals you set for yourself. Not only are you exhausted and low on energy, but you may also have a headache, be nauseous and want to eat unhealthy fried food far more than you want to hop on your old treadmill.
What’s happening when you have a hangover?
To better understand why you feel so awful when you have a hangover, it’s important to understand what’s actually happening in the body. The major symptoms during a hangover are mainly caused by dehydration, according to Jamie Bacharach, Dipl.Ac, a diplomate of acupuncture with Acupuncture Jerusalem. “Alcohol is a diuretic, which essentially means the more alcohol you consume, the more your body is triggered to increase urine production, which is why you are dehydrated the following morning,” she says. “Dehydration causes us to feel dizzy, fatigued, thirsty and is a large contributor to hangover headaches.”
What’s more: Bacharach points out that, when alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it releases a toxic byproduct known as acetaldehyde, which can lead to feelings of nausea and fatigue. “Excess alcohol consumption also causes blood sugar spikes, disrupts sleeping patterns and causes inflammation in our bodies, making us feel tired and lazy,” she adds.
Why working out can actually help your hangover
One of the last things you want to do when you’re hungover is workout—but this can actually be quite beneficial for “kicking” the hangover. For starters, exercise increases our blood flow, which we need when we’re hungover to help our body metabolize alcohol faster. “Sweating during exercise also aids in removing toxins from our body,” says Bacharach. “When we workout our body releases feel good hormones called endorphins, which help promote feelings of happiness and give our moods the boost it needs to get through the day.”
Of course, not just any workout will serve as a hangover cure. Certain high-impact exercises, like box jumps or jumping rope, may be too harsh if you’re already coping with a bad headache. “The workout is supposed to get you feeling better quicker, and helping cardiovascular circulation is your best bet as well as plenty of hydration” says strength coach and chiropractor Allen Conrad, D.C., C.S.C.S., owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in Pennsylvania. Instead he recommends focusing on cardio like swimming or bike riding on those days to increase circulation without the higher impact activities.
The best workouts for days when you’re hungover
If you’re battling a hangover, here are the best workouts to alleviate your discomfort and get you feeling like yourself again in no time.
Not only is swimming low impact, but it’s also quite relaxing. “The resistance caused when swimming through the water stretches and exercises your entire body,” Bacharach says. “The water cools your body down which can help with feelings of nausea and the refreshing water can help wake you up.” She recommends maintaining a consistent, slow-medium pace that you feel comfortable with and not pushing yourself too hard.
Stretching in the sauna
If you have access to a sauna, consider doing some stretching exercises in there during your next hangover to help aid with flexibility, relaxation and mobility. “The heat from the sauna will make you sweat more and help get toxins from alcohol out of the body even faster,” says Dr. Conrad. If you go this route, be sure to keep your stretching short and hydrate adequately directly after.
Riding a bike is low impact, helps circulation and also improves cardiovascular endurance, explains Dr. Conrad. “Getting on the bike can help with stress relief and give your muscles a good workout at the same time,” he says. Again, be sure to adequately hydrate post-bike ride to replenish your levels and prevent further dehydration.
Performing stretches and holding yoga poses are a great way to get the blood flowing, according to Bacharach. “Yoga is low impact, promotes relaxation and involves deep stretching, which improves your flexibility,” she says. “Doing yoga during a hangover can help release tension in your muscles which may be inflamed from the night before, and it helps calm the mind, fighting off some of the anxiety we may feel during hangovers.”
This traditional Chinese martial art is characterized by slow and flowing movements, deep breathing and a focus on mindfulness. It can be adapted according to your fitness levels and helps promote calmness and stillness, explains Bacharach. “Try not to rush your movements, but aim for a slow and steady pace,” she adds.