Now that cold and flu season has Ann Arbor in its slimy grip, it's time to talk about working out during and after an illness. When will working out help you get rid of a bug faster? And what's the best way to recover your fitness after you've been really sick?
However, we do know a few things, both about when it's okay to exercise while sick and how to best come back to an exercise routine after a more serious illness.
- Use the neck test. If you're just experiencing some mild nasal congestion and/or a sore throat, mild exercise won't hurt you. It may even help, at least in terms of temporarily clearing your sinuses. However, if your symptoms are below the neck – chest congestion, nausea, muscle aches – OR you have a fever, stay home!
- Scale down the intensity of your workout when you're sick. A strenuous workout – the kind that leaves you exhausted – can actually put a temporary dent in your immune system. So if you've got a mild head cold with no fever, take your workout intensity down a notch or three until you've been symptom-free for a few days.
But what if you've been seriously ill -- the kind of sick that had you in bed for a few days, or even a week? In that case, there is one key thing you have to remember when you're ready to work out again:
Take it easy.
- If you had a fever, wait until at least forty-eight hours after the fever has broken before heading back to the gym.
- A week in bed sick means you will lose about thirty percent of the fitness you built up before you were ill – especially your cardio fitness. This means you're going to need to work your way back up, and doing it right is going to take some time. The good news is, if you don't overtax yourself, you can be back to your previous level of fitness in as little as two weeks, depending on how long and how seriously you were ill. But if you were sick longer, it's going to take longer to get back to your previous level of fitness.
- Pitch your first post-illness workouts to an intensity that's only about 50%-70% of what you were doing before you got sick. Remember, exhausting yourself will dent your immune system, which may leave you vulnerable to a relapse. Not only that, but exercising beyond your post-illness ability can lead to injury.
- Work your way back up gradually. Don’t worry - you will get back your strength and stamina back!
***Photo courtesy Tina Franklin