Can exercise really help to cure a hangover?

Image: Sex and the City.

So it’s the morning after the night before, and with some help with your frenemy tequila you’ve taken a deep dive into hell.

Your head is spinning, your mouth is dryer than a week-old loaf of bread, and every fibre of your being is flipping you the bird. To add salt to an already agonising wound, the heel has snapped off your favourite shoes and your hair smells like an ashtray.

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With all the wonders of medical science, it seems cruel that we still don’t have a sure-fire cure for the dreaded hangover. While humankind awaits that fateful day, we’ve had to find our own remedies. Some people swear by coffee, others believe in the restorative powers of bacon, and we all have that one friend who claims exercise does the trick.

Although that sounds like the worst possible idea, we all know physical activity is great for our health in general. So it seems almost logical that sweating it out could help relieve a hangover… but is it really a good idea? (Post continues after gallery.)

The answer largely depends what kind of exercise you have in mind — and how severe your hangover is. But generally speaking, being active might help you feel a little less like a corpse with a sore head.

“I think generally it does make you feel better, because you’re actually getting the body moving, you’re getting cells moving around, you’re increasing your metabolism and energy and blood flow… that’s why people think that they should do it,” says personal trainer, CHEK practitioner and lululemon athletica ambassador Leila Lutz. Those mood-boosting endorphins will cheer you up, too.

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However, thanks to your reckless enthusiasm the night before, your body is going to be a little compromised so you have to proceed with caution. In short: if you really want to do some exercise, go easy. Very easy.

We feel your pain.

First of all, the diuretic effect of alcohol means your body's going to be incredibly dehydrated — and your thermoregulation will also be impaired. Vigorously working out while you're in this state could only make things worse, even when you're drinking water.

"You're so dehydrated already and devoid of sugars, fats, salts, minerals, and then you go and sweat it all out and take more of it out of the body. You're just doubling up on the mess you did last night," Lutz, who founded Momentum for Life, says.

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Then there's your poor, alcohol-savaged liver. This is one seriously hard-working organ in your body, and one of its many vital roles is to detoxify your system — which takes a bit more work than usual when you've flooded your system with alcohol (and, um, 3am kebabs). Exercise can actually drain your body of the nutrients it requires for this process, along with energy, so it's almost like self-sabotage. (Post continues after gallery.)

"The other role of the liver is to control blood sugar, so you when need energy the liver's in charge of that. If you exercise, you're going to have to take more away from the body to provide the energy for you to exercise," Lutz explains.


"You're actually robbing the system and putting it under stress, and this is what people need to be really careful of."

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In particular, Lutz recommends avoiding high-intensity workouts like weight lifting, boxing, or intense cardio — yep, that includes running.

"First of all, it's dangerous. I don't know about other people but when I'm hungover, coordination is not very good," she says. The other reason is that when you're hungover, your body's in a stressed-out state — and adding physical stress through intense exercise only exacerbates that.

Don't do it to yourself.

If you feel well enough to get up and move about, opt for gentle walking, yoga, or easing yourself into the nearest body of water for a light swim (now is not the time to lapse into that afternoon nap you desperate need).

"When I'm hungover, my favourite thing to do is to go for a swim — I find being in the cold water really helps me," Lutz admits. Regardless of which activity you choose, make sure you keep rehydrating throughout.

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Essentially, though, you have our permission to take it easy if you've overdone the alcohol. Your body needs to recuperate.

"Try to have an easy day when you're hungover and just focus nutrition and replenishing your system; and keeping calm and balanced," Lutz says. (Post continues after video.)

Depending on how horrendous your hangover is, and how much alcohol you've ingested, it's probably best to wait for 24 hours before you jump back into your normal fitness regimen. In general, it's important to be aware of how often and how much you're drinking.

"Australians drink too much, I'm really seeing it with clients at the moment. It's so bad for you... and people think everything — a week long juice cleanse or training really hard — is a band-aid for the mess they've created," Lutz says.

Related: Does diet or exercise have the biggest impact on your health?

"I'm not saying don't ever drink, but try to keep it to one day a week."

Do you ever exercise when you're hungover? Do you find it helps at all?