So you’ve got your exercise routine down pat…but then, you catch a cold! Or worse, the flu! How do you know how hard to push yourself? Should you cut back? If you do, when do you get back into it? SO MANY QUESTIONS!
It’s true that generally speaking, regular exercise will help to boost your immune system, but in the case of intense training, it can have the opposite effect and may temporarily suppress your immune system. If you’re engaging in a particularly intense training regime, it’s important that you are vigilant with general preventative measures including hygiene.
The biggest problem people run into is when they are dedicated to their routine and are struck down by sickness. At first, it might seem wise to ‘push through’ the symptoms and remain committed to your program for the sake of continuity. However, this can end up being detrimental – and occasionally, dangerous – if you work too hard and cause a more serious condition.
The most common and widely accepted rule of thumb, is the above/below the neck rule. That is, if all your symptoms are ‘above the neck’ – for example, a stuffy/runny nose, a mild sore throat, or headaches – then general exercise and light training is still okay and may actually be beneficial to your recovery. However, if any of your symptoms are ‘below the neck’ – including very sore throat, coughing or lung congestion, fever, body chills, aches, diarrhoea, vomiting, or exhaustion – then you should definitely stop your routine and allow your body to recover before continuing so that you don’t make it worse.
The best remedy for the common cold is to rest and ensure you are drinking plenty of fluids. If you suspect you may have something more serious, visit your GP. In any case, the presence of any ‘below the neck’ symptoms should be enough to signal to you that you need to stop.
Getting back into your exercise routine post-illness can be just as hard to judge as it’s not always easy to tell when our bodies have fully recovered. Following the presence of any ‘below the neck’ symptoms, you should allow your body at least one full day after these symptoms have dissipated before recommencing your workout. Don’t be in a hurry to immediately resume your same level of intensity either! While any ‘above the neck’ symptoms are still hanging around, stick to light exercises and consider your workout at recovery pace. The green light for resuming your regular intensity is the absence of any ‘above the neck’ symptoms!
It’s important not to forget to apply a bit of common sense as well; if you have a contagious illness, don’t simply follow the neck rule, but be mindful of how long your illness is contagious and avoid gyms and group fitness classes for as long as necessary to save others from becoming sick as well!
Finally, be gentle with yourself. It’s fantastic for your general health and wellbeing to have a regular exercise routine, but you really must allow your body to heal properly when you’ve been sick; there’s no rush to get back to your pre-illness level of intensity.
This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.
Some of the articles used in putting together this piece are listed below; these may also provide other useful information.