I was asked the other day, should I train when I have a cold?
It posed a great question I researched and discussed with a team doctor I work with. We spoke not only about the impact of infections, but with flu season fast approaching, he explained the effects of training when the dreaded cold/flu strikes.
The first thing I must point out is that exercise helps build the immune system and prevent infections. Studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise for around 30 to 45 minutes a day, such as walking, biking or running, can help increase half your risk for respiratory infections and other common winter maladies. But that all changes once you catch an infection or cold.
Many studies suggest that training can take place if you have a clod and showing symtons from the neck up is ok. But below the neck, or if you are experiencing fever-like systems, it’s not recommended to train at all. So the idea of ‘sweating a cold' out of you is terrible. One leading researcher said that when a person suffers from flu or some other fever-causing infection, their immune system works overtime to fight off that infection. Exercise is a form of physical stress which makes the immune system’s task more difficult. You are prolonging the condition and not sweating it out.
One scientist said that athletes suffer from prolonged, virus-induced fatigue. Even after their infection had passed, they’ve reported feeling weak and tired, and some have not been able to perform at their previous level for months or even years. Our team doctor also said that exercise is a way of keeping the bacteria happy in its environment when you have a chest infection or chesty cough.
Exercise fills the lungs with moisture and heat, which is perfect for any bacteria to live and grow. For some people, this may be a bitter hard pill to swallow, while for others, it may sound like sweet music to their ears. Either way, you must let the infection and cold pass and slowly build up your training and immune system. Yes, you have to move after the disease has left your body but don’t go all guns blazing. Even though you may feel much better, there may still be a risk of setting that lousy boy infection off again. Once the symptoms have subsided, give yourself another week and start to ease back gently. Start with a walk in the fresh air and then progress to your moderate workouts. If you are feeling good after another week, return to your regular training routine. This may seem like an extended return to training protocol, but giving it two extra weeks is better than coughing yourself through each session for another few months.
Think of it like a broken arm or sprained ankle; your flu-weakened body needs time and rest to fully heal before standing up to the rigours of exercise.