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Right Or Wrong – How Soon I Exercise During a Cold or Flu

June 2013
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I know the stats and what the doctors say:

Cold in the head, exercise away.  Cold in the chest, stay on the couch.  Wait until the symptoms are gone.  Exercise too early and it will prolong recovery from the sickness.  Etcetera, etcetera, yada, yada, yada…

My experience, which is fairly extensive spanning over twelve years, is a little different.  I am not about to advocate against going doctors’ recommendations (that would be stupid) but I will state beyond a shadow of a doubt, for me, standard recommendations would require too much couch time.

First of all, I have trouble sleeping if I don’t get my daily ride.  I’m not tired at 9 or 10 pm and have to try to force myself to fall asleep.  Adding to my consternation, if I take more than a day off, I can’t sleep until the alarm goes off either.  This presents a problem when I’m trying to get more rest to recover from a cold or the flu.

I’ve been running and riding through colds or the flu for more than a decade and I can say for certain, if I follow a few simple rules, I recover faster and am much, much happier.

First, if the hair hurts, I’m on the couch.  We all know what I’m talking about here.  You’ve got the first day when you’re still trying to convince yourself that you’re not going to get sick.  Every once in a while this works, but I always take that first day off.  If my body is trying to kick something, the last thing I want to do is make that process more complicated by stressing it.  The next day, when I know the “I’m not getting sick” mantra didn’t work and I wake up with my hair hurting, I’m either on the couch (if I’m lucky enough to get sick on the weekend) or trudging through a day at the office (though I will take a day off if the bug is bad enough).  This is a day off from the cardio.  There is no chance I’m getting on a bike or running.

Next, it gets a little tricky for how I gauge whether or not I’m going to work out or not.  This last bug that I had really tested my “system”.  With this last bug (sore throat, chest cold, fever, the whole nine yards), I felt better on the third day but I knew darn good and well I wasn’t in any shape to exercise – let alone put a full day in at the office.  I was so wiped out, I ended up taking a nap in the fetal position on the thinly carpeted concrete floor in my office before I went home so I wouldn’t have any issues driving home.  I used a jacket I keep in my warehouse as a pillow.  Under normal circumstances I’ll feel good enough to take an easy ride after a couple of days, but not with this one and I knew it.  The third day was iffy.  Again, I felt much better than the two days prior – I could tell I was getting better, but at about 10:30 in the morning, my energy level just crashed.  I was on my way home from the office at 3 and I knew I was still too hit to ride so I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch.  Then the fog cleared yesterday.  My energy level, while still low, was rebounding well and I was feeling a little cagey.  Cooped up if you will.  I still had some symptoms, minimal congestion, still coughing (and I could still feel it in my lungs) but the sore throat and mild fever was gone.  I felt much better.  Now, if I were to follow recommendations, with symptoms improving but still present, I’d have stayed on the couch again.  Not in my world.

I went out for an exceptionally easy 16 mile ride yesterday, the slowest of the year as a matter of fact at about 17 mph.  On that ride there were a couple of times that I questioned the wisdom of the choice but I did keep going,  though I did slow down a bit.  I blew out a lot of junk from my lungs in the last half.  In fact, I have to imagine I looked pretty funny almost coughing up a lung cruising down the road.  On finishing I did not feel all that good and I thought that I’d jumped the gun just a little bit so I took a 20 minute nap, then had something to eat.  After dinner I was still feeling a little out of it so I took another 20 minute nap, and that did it.  I felt normal.  The rest of the night went very well and come 9 pm, I was ready for bed.  I slept straight through, like a baby, until 4 am (seven hours is a great night’s sleep for me, I’m used to six).

This morning, still with a little stuffiness and a touch of a cough, I do feel rested, clear-headed and ready to go.  I’m almost back to normal and am fairly excited.  Having gone through these phases before with recommended rest, I know if I’d have stayed on the couch yesterday, I would have had a much rougher night of sleep which would have left me drained yet again today and probably suffering from less of an improvement.


8 Comments

  1. And here I am just the other day whining about how lonely being sick feels – next thing I know I’m living your illness vicariously through your posts! Get well already!

  2. triathlonobsession says:

    Funny when sick I’m always contemplating the same thing–the battle between rest and a little bit of exercise. It’s hard to take a day off. Feel better!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks, I’m givin’ her all she’s got Captain…

      I don’t know about you but when I take a stretch of time off I often have a tough time getting back into the groove. I always get there but I don’t like that two or three day stretch. This is why I’d rather not stop in the first place.

      • triathlonobsession says:

        Couldn’t agree more—and that’s the battle. But we both know that sometimes, it’s smarter to rest or you elongate the sickness or injury—which is worse! 🙂

  3. biking2work says:

    I made the mistake of riding too soon after being unwell a couple of weeks back. Thought I was feeling better and did too much too soon. As a result felt awfully lethargic and headachy for another week. Gradually felt better but resisted strong urges to ride again for a full week.

    Agree that its up to the individual to obey what their body is saying and wont be doing too much too soon again so soon after a cold. It soooo had to resist though!

  4. Bar Science says:

    At the end of the day you and only you can gauge when you are well enough to get back to riding. Good luck.

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