When you are training towards a particular goal, or for an upcoming event, getting sick with cold or flu can be really frustrating as it inevitably sets you back. Plus it isn’t nice being unwell in the first place; your sleep pattern gets thrown off, your appetite changes and it becomes much harder to stay hydrated, not to mention the lack of energy!
When you get sick, your body instantly starts to defend itself by producing a stockpile of chemicals throughout your body. These inflammatory mediators are responsible for many of the symptoms you experience (such as snot!), however they also help protect the body. Some of these mediators include histamine, prostaglandins, kinins and interleukins.
Exercise does impact upon the effectiveness of the immune system. Sometimes it is detrimental and will set your healing back by days if not weeks. Other times getting the appropriate type and duration of exercise can actually help boost your immune system and get you fighting fit, quicker than if you did absolutely nothing.
So when is it ok to train, and what kind of training works best?
Firstly let’s look at when NOT to train -
- If you have a fever
- Stomach bug
- Tight chest
- Serious chest congestion
- The flu (fever/sore joints/sore muscles/exhaustion etc)
- Or if you have any illness that is outside of a general cold/flu then it is always best to check with your doctor first.
^ These are all indications that your body really does need to stop, rest and recuperate. Any exercise done when your body is this unwell is likely to redirect your energy that should be being focused on protecting and healing the body. So it will likely prolong your illness as well as place a lot of strain on your body which could actually be dangerous.
Deciding when exercising might be ok, or even slightly beneficial to how you feel, comes down to the severity and duration of your cold. If you have a mild cold, with symptoms such as sneezing, a mild sore throat or a runny nose, then short bursts of moderate intensity exercise can actually help stimulate the different systems within your body and give you a pleasant energy boost.
Your immune system works best when it isn’t under stress, so tailor exercise sessions accordingly. For moderate to high intensity, keep it down to a maximum of 30 minutes and stay hydrated. If your body is letting you know it doesn’t feel right, then stop. It is important to listen to your body and not push it. The ideal type of exercise is low to moderate intensity, and includes power walking, bike riding, Pilates, yoga, slow jogging, or any exercise that doesn’t get your heart rate up too high, or require too much strain on your muscles.
At the end of the day, it is important to be kind to yourself and listen to your body. It will usually let you know what feels right and what doesn’t. Being active in the fresh air can be very therapeutic, however if you need rest, then you should rest!