When FITness Meets SICKness
The leaves are orange,
the air is crisp (...one day, then it’s hot the next and freezing after that?? C’mon weather…),
and the noses are, well, stuffy.
It must be fall!
I knew this day was coming, though I did have high hopes that I beat it this year. Regardless, here we are. As I type this, I’m laying on my couch for the second day in a row, with a pile of crumpled up tissues, congestion pills, vapor rub, DayQuil, throat lozenges, and a box of tissues next to me-- the common “fall” cold has fallen over me.
So, what is a gymrat to do when this time of the year hits? Well, that is what we’re here to figure out…
Let’s start from the beginning: You start feeling like you’re coming down with a cold.
What to do: Aside from pop a few more Vitamin C capsules, you don’t really have to do anything differently. You can still exercise without significant limitations; HOWEVER, if you begin to feel worse after your workout, then it is time to cut back.
Either take a rest day the next day, or reduce your intensity to around 50-60% of your normal capacity (aka don’t push to failure!).
As well, consider cutting any cardio in half to conserve energy. Usually do 30 minutes at level 5 on the stairmaster? Go for 15 at level 3 instead. Doing sprint intervals on the treadmill for 20 minutes? Not today. Change it to 10 minutes of walking until you have all your strength back.
But, sometimes despite your best efforts, the cold still hits you.
*she types after weeks of Clorox-ing everything, hand-sanitizing constantly, and popping countless Airbornes…-sigh-*
What to do: Remember the “Fitness and Sickness Golden Rule”- If your symptoms occur from the neck up, then you’re good-to-go in the gym still.
If you’re just suffering from a stuffy or runny nose, dry cough, slight throat irritation, or sneezing, then no need to hide out from the gym quite yet. In fact, you may actually find that exercise during this time can help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion!
Similarly to the ‘pre-cold’ workout, reduce your intensity. Keep your exercise at a mild to moderate level. A study from 2015 by the American College of Sports Medicine revealed that exercising at a moderate intensity level does not intensify cold symptoms or compromise the immune system.
However, high-intensity exercise (such as heavy weight lifting or HIIT aerobic training) have been shown to have a negative impact on the immune system, so hold off on any high-intensity training until your symptoms have subsided.
Precautions with the “above the neck” rule:
1. If you’re taking a decongestant for your stuffy nose (such as oral medications and nose sprays), this can affect heart rate during exercise. With that in mind, be sure to keep a close eye on your heart rate and utilize rest times.
2. If one of your “above the neck” symptoms is a fever, avoid working out! Fever is the one exception for the Fitness and Sickness Golden Rule as it raises your body’s core temperature-- something in which exercise also increases. That being said, not a good combination.
After a few days, your “above the neck” symptoms turn into body aches, chest congestion, upset stomach, muscle aches and/or fatigue.
What to do: Sit a few plays out, champ. Stay home and rest-- rest allows your immune system to recover!
If you’re weak and wiped out with fatigue, or having trouble breathing due to a bunch of flem/congestion in your chest/throat, there is absolutely zero reason to work out! ...and obviously anything stomach-wise should have you near a toilet as opposed to a squat rack…
Plus, depending on your symptoms, you could be contagious. Put a temporary hold on your workouts, get to bed early/get extra sleep, drink plenty of water, and take some over-the-counter cold medicine as you recoup. Listen to your body so it can come back stronger, quicker!
FINALLY! That pesky cold has run its course, and you wake up feeling much better!
What to do: Again, listen to your body. It wouldn’t hurt to wait another 24 hours to resume your exercise routine, but if you’re like me and you’re itchin’ to get back in the gym, then do so smartly.
Don’t hop in 100% for the first three or four days. Start around 75% of your typical intensity (for both cardio and weights), and slowly work your way back up.
If you try to do too much too soon, you may end up prolonging your recovery phase.
The main takeaway: Let your body be your guide. If you feel miserable, it is okay to take a break!
...but don’t let a minor cold, or the start of one, be your excuse for being lazy! It can certainly be easy to use a slightly stuffy nose as a cop-out for going home after work to binge the new Stranger Things instead of hitting the gym…
And also, if you do choose to exercise when you’re sick/starting to feel sick, remember to reduce the intensity and length of your workouts until your symptoms are gone and you’re feeling back to normal.
...and sanitize the equipment and benches for the sake of those around you!
Now, allow me to raise a glass of Alka Seltzer Cold & Flu to the near future when...
- The energy that left my body on Monday finally returns
- All of this mucus inside of my chest/nose/ears/head finally departs
- And my body fully recovers, so I can get back into the iron paradise!!
Here, here! Bottoms up!