RETURNING TO EXERCISE AFTER BEING SICK: A recent interview with Ten Daily

Recently I was interviewed by TEN DAILY on the topic of returning to exercise after having a cold or flu. Here is a short transcript from the interview...

How do we know when we’re ready to return to exercise after a minor illness such as a cold or flu?

  • The key is to really listen to your body and be mindful about how it feels before getting back into exercise.

  • Hard exercise puts your body under stress and if you’re unwell, your body is already under stress trying to fight off the infection. Heavy exercise can therefore compromise your immune system if it’s still fighting the infection, and your cold or flu can get worse and last for longer.

  • There is no set rule for when to return to exercise after a cold or flu, so listening to your body is the best approach. One method that can be applied is to consider whether your symptoms are above your neck (e.g. runny nose and watery eyes) or below your neck (e.g. cough, congested, fever, GI symptoms or muscle aches). In general, if your symptoms are above your neck and you feel okay, it’s likely your fine to do some light to moderate exercise, however if your symptoms are below your neck, give exercising a miss and let your body rest and recover.

  • As you start to feel better, ease back into your workouts and build up the intensity and duration over a number of workouts and days.

How should we go about getting back into it – slowly, lighter weights, less intensity?

  • If you’ve been unwell for a long period of time, it’s smart to ease back into your workouts very slowly. Basically the longer you have been unwell, the longer you should take to ease back into your specific exercises.

  • Start with light to moderate intensity exercises like walking, cycling, swimming, Tai Chi and yoga, for shorter periods of time (~10-30mins). Again, listen to your body during and after each work out. If you’re feeling good, aim to slowly increase the duration of time and intensity each day.

  • High intensity exercises like heavy strength training, HIIT, endurance training and team sports should be avoided when getting back into it after a bout of the flu or common cold.

What are some signs that we’ve gone back to exercise too soon? Is it dangerous?

  • Getting back into exercise too soon after being unwell can reduce your immune response and potentially worsen and lengthen your illness.

  • When you’re unwell, your heart rate is generally higher than normal, due to dehydration and/or fever. Exercising at a high intensity can push your heart rate even higher, which can increase your risk for feeling light headed and fainting. It can also even induce an irregular heart rhythm.

  • Some signs to look out for include, shortness of breath, higher than normal resting heart rate, the light headed feeling, and general low energy.