‘Should I exercise if I have a cold?’ A question put to me recently by one of our runners. If it is a ‘head’ cold that is symptoms are from the neck up, then it’s okay to exercise. However if symptoms are below the neck such as a tight chest & fever then it is very unwise to exercise. Any physical activity will compromise the immune system. The body will be producing energy to exercise instead of fighting the illness. Influenza as opposed to a cough or cold is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. If you have suffered from flu not only will you lose some fitness due to being off your feet for a week but you will also need to be careful about returning to exercise. Unlike an injury or stomach bug you can’t just build up your training normally once the symptoms subside. Following flu your immune system will be at a low which makes you more susceptible to further infections. This can lead to post-viral fatigue syndrome. Post-viral complications may last months or even years!
Therefore exercising whilst suffering the effects of influenza is definitely not recommended. But as important is the way you return to activity. Assuming you are free from all flu symptoms, and have been for at least the last seven days, and you feel ‘back to normal’ regarding everyday activities, then it is time to consider returning to the gym. By now you will have missed around 2 weeks of physical activity. During the following two weeks you need to listen to your body. Start very gradually leaving at least 48 hours between sessions. If you feel fine continue this programme but never increase both duration and intensity at the same time. Remember your immune system will still be vulnerable – if you feel more tired than normal or your recovery seems slower than usual then take some extra rest days. Also, keep a good diet and plenty of sleep. It may be frustrating being cautious but far better than having to take months off.