It’s flu season and the dreaded virus is most definitely doing the rounds. I’ve had a few people ask me how long they should wait after the flu before they get back to exercise. It’s a good question and there is certainly no ‘one-size fits all’ answer but there are some general principles and guidelines that you might find helpful.
Firstly, ask yourself these questions:
How ill have you been?
Have you really had flu or just a heavy cold? A proper influenza illness will totally knock the stuffing out of you. We’re talking bed bound days with fevers and shivers, complete exhaustion and a whole range of symptoms from sore throats and headaches to muscle pains and vomiting. This is obviously going to need a lot longer recovery time than a few days sneezing into a tissue. The longer you’ve been unwell and the more unwell you’ve been, then the longer it’s going to take you to get better. It sounds obvious but sometimes we’re unrealistic and have the wrong expectations of ourselves. You’re simply not going to be able to hop straight back to exercising a few days after you’ve had flu but you might after a simple cold.
Are you fully better?
When you’ve felt truly hideous, then as soon as you start to feel a bit better, you may suddenly feel you can take on the world. There is however, better and properly better. If you’re still having occasional high temperatures, coughing up phlegm or not back to your normal diet, then although intermittently you feel ok and you’re heaps better than you were, you’re not ready. You need to wait a bit longer. Realistically it’s going to be at least a couple of weeks after the flu before you can get back to exercising, it may even be longer. You need to be able to get through your normal daily activities comfortably before you exert yourself too much. So, if you’re still at the point when having a shower and getting dressed is wiping you out then don’t even think about it. If you can get through a day at work as you normally would then it’s a green light to exercise.
What are the dangers of exercising too soon?
It’s pretty frustrating when you can’t exercise, especially if you’ve just developed a good routine or are following a training plan and have a goal in mind. Tempting though it is to just plough on, it’s worth being patient and waiting a few extra days. Pushing yourself too soon may reduce your immune response and you can end up being unwell for longer. When you’re ill, your heart rate is faster than normal, particularly if you have a fever or are a bit dehydrated. Adding the extra exertion of vigorous exercise will push your heart rate up further which can make you feel light headed or even induce a harmful irregularity in the heart rhythm. A good marker of this is your resting heart rate which you should measure first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. When you are ill your resting heart rate will rise, so making sure it’s back to your normal is a good way to establish when you’re ready to get back to training.
Here are 5 simple steps to guide you back into exercise:
- Make sure you are fully better. See the advice above.
- Ease back in. Be sensible, use your common sense. Start with something very low intensity like a short walk and gradually build up over a couple of weeks. Be patient, it will pay off.
- Get extra rest. Your body has been busy healing itself from illness so once you add a training load then you need to give it some TLC and allow extra rest and sleep for restorative processes. If you feel over tired then cut back.
- Nourish yourself. Don’t forget the importance of eating well. You may have lost weight and used up energy stores during your illness and your body needs good building blocks to repair itself. Pack your diet with fresh vegetables and fruits and drink plenty of water.
- Lose the guilt. Illness happens to everyone. Don’t let it ruin your good intentions. All is not lost. It won’t take long to get your fitness back. Just stay positive.
There’s more on whether you should exercise when you’re ill and returning to exercise after common illnesses in my book Sorted: The Active Women’s Guide to Health. There’s 35% off at the moment in the New Year Sale at Bloomsbury. Also available at Amazon and many book shops.
Photo credit: Big thanks to Gratisography for the featured image