Cold and Flu Season is upon us! Every year I field questions from clients wondering if they should workout if they feel like they might get sick, if they are sick, or worried they might get sick again. “What should I eat? What should I not eat? Should I go here? Stay home?” The list goes on and on.
I don’t give every client the same advice, because factors like age, health, fitness level, environment, symptoms experienced and lifestyle factors come into play, but I do have some good rules of thumb that apply to everyone. So without further ado, here are my top fitness in sickness tips that will reduce the severity, duration and time to recovery the next time you catch a cold!
1. Medicate Immediately!
Don’t wait another minute the moment you realize you might be getting sick. Go fill up a water bottle and drink a sip every time your mouth gets dry. This will make sure your body’s blood volume is optimal for circulating nutrients in and toxins out. Start taking an N.S.A.I.D. like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or asprin (Bayer). These will reduce inflammation on a sore throat, burning lungs, and/or clogged nasal cavity. The sooner you reduce how inflamed those tissues get, the faster your body will be able to heal them.
Another thing I like to do is start taking apple cider vinegar. Swish it around your mouth, gargle it, then swallow it. It makes the burn of Listerine feel like warm milk, but time and time again it either stops a cold in its tracks for me, or noticeably lessens the discomfort. Then before bed, take something that will make sure your body stays asleep rather than waking up to blow your nose, cough, and struggle to get to sleep again. I like NyQuil, but if you haven’t made a trip to the pharmacy, Benadryl, Advil PM, or another NSAID PM should help knock you out and keep you out. You might wake up groggy, but once you get up and moving you’ll be happy you got all the sleep you did!
2. Wait Another Day Before You Workout
Every time you workout, you’re technically damaging your immune system, as well as draining yourself of energy. Now before you get the wrong idea, your body recovers from the workout and that recovery process strengthens your immunity each time, which is why people who exercise regularly get sick far less often than sedentary people. When you feel a cold coming on, you want your body to have the energy it needs to get through the worst of it, however bad it might get. For that reason, I never workout the day I feel I’m getting sick, and depending on if I feel better or worse the next day, I’ll only go if I’m feeling better.
If you’re on day 2 or 3 and you can’t tell if you feel better than the day before, wait one more day. Every time I’ve suggested this to a client, they always thank me because it was that day that it hit them the hardest. You want to make sure your body is past the most energy-intensive part of being sick so that it doesn’t set you back more than necessary. Once you’re over the peak symptoms, it’s a sign that your body has overcome the germs and just needs to flush the gunk out. This is where resting more can actually thwart the healing process, because it deprives your body of the movement it needs to remove the toxins and waste (again, a reason sedentary people get sick more often), and circulate nutrients throughout the body. So please, the moment you know you’re past the worst of the cold, get out of bed, off the couch and move, move, move, move!
3. Keep Workouts Light and Full Body
You’re already probably going to be low on energy, so you should naturally be going lighter during your workout because you won’t have the energy. In the event that you’re dead set on going right back to the same weight and rep scheme you were at where you left off though, not only am I going to fight you on it, but so will your body. Take whatever you were doing before and back it off about 20-30% at the least. There’s no sense in beating up your body in the weight room when it’s already been beat up at home.
A way to ensure you’re facilitating circulation throughout the entire body and not over-working anything is to do a full-body workout. It spreads the time you have allotted for the gym over many different muscles, minimizing the chance of over-training any particular muscle group. Compared to a bodybuilding workout or a cardio session, where you either exercise only a few muscles, or repeat a minimal amount of movement the whole time, a total body workout activates the complete musculoskeletal network. Quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulder complex and arms moving through a complete range of motion that stimulate the gamut of muscular fibers will loosen up stiff joints, intermittently elevate your heart rate and leave you feeling healthier and more capable before you leave the gym. Trust me, try it next time and see how much better your feel by the time the workout is over!
4. Minimize Cardio
Cold symptoms take a toll on your nose, throat and lungs. So does cardio, so why would you want to exacerbate tissues that are likely still inflamed? It’s one thing to get the heart rate up and breath hard intermittently, like in a resistance training workout, but to breath hard continually for minutes on end, that can really make things worse. The breathing can dry out the mouth, nose and throat, causing or worsening an already existent cough. The lungs can not only start burning from the dried out bronchi, but all the breathing can inadvertently draw some infected mucus deeper down into the lungs, leading you to that nasty chest cough that many experience for an extra week or two after cold symptoms ensue.
You don’t want anything in the respiratory system drying out, which is why from day one drinking more water will help you out. The moment something dries out beyond comfort level, microscopic cracks can form, opening pathways for the infection to proliferate. Stay hydrated, don’t resist mucus your body wants expectorated, and avoid activities that might exacerbate either of the two!
5. Get Out!
Hopefully you already have a habit of being outside every day for a minimum of 15 minutes. Exposing your body to the elements, getting your Vitamin D from sunlight exposure and being up and moving are just the tip of the iceberg of benefits to getting outside. If you’re on the front-side of a cold and the weather is deplorable, sure, staying inside is probably best, but you can at least sit by the window for a while to get some residual sunlight. No matter your condition though, the more time and energy you can devote to being outside without aggravating your symptoms, the faster you will recover. Vitamin D alone is a crucial component of maintaining healthy immunity, and you can not get adequate Vitamin D without exposure to sunlight. Your micro-biome is worthy of its own textbook, but it’s absolutely critical to your health and well-being so the more bacteria you can expose yourself to, the more balanced and thriving your micro-biome will be!
What are your favorite cold and flu season remedies? Share them in the comments below and let me know what you would like to see in my next blog post!