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There’s a lot of people suffering colds or flu here in the (now) cold southern hemisphere. In Australia, authorities reckon the swine flu has become unstoppable, with the worst yet to come. The H1N1 virus is worse than a common cold, but is also, of course, over hyped . However, the challenge remains for athletes to decide when to re-start exercise and training after an illness.
A good starting point is to do a self-check on where your symptoms lie. If your cold symptoms are relatively mild and from the neck up, you can probably go for it. If your symptoms extend below the neck and include chest discomfort or deep cough, general aches and pains, and fever, hit the bed instead of the treadmill.
When you do feel well enough to do something and it’s cold outside, begin with some light indoor exercise, such as a walk or light run on a treadmill at the gym, sipping regularly from your water bottle (a sports drink can help protect your immune system ). You don’t want the cold air outside to dry and irritate your throat. Nor do you want to do heavy exercise that will deplete your immune system.
Scientists have boldly and deliberately infected people with rhinovirus (which causes the common cold) to test the effect of moderate and maximal exercise on the severity and duration of the illness. This study reported that moderate exercise training during a rhinovirus-caused upper respiratory illness (URI)… does not alter the severity and duration of the illness.
And this study concluded that physiological responses to pulmonary function testing… and maximal exercise do not appear to be altered by an URI.
So if you get a common cold, take a day or two off to start with. Then re-start training slowly and gradually build up a little each day, deciding how much to do depending on how you feel each day. A good objective measure of your health can be obtained by checking your resting heart rate each morning. If it’s 10 bpm above normal, your body is really buggered and you need a day off. If it’s 5 bpm up, it may be ok and you should review your other symptoms to decide whether to train or not.
Training with a cold will make the training feel harder, so continue to limit the duration and intensity until back to full health.
However, if you have the flu and symptoms are more serious - like heavy chest discomfort, achy muscles, chills, fatigue, etc. - you need to be even more sedate with your return to exercise. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, your nutrition is good and your resting heart rate is barely elevated above normal before re-starting moderate or heavy exercise.
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