Flu and sports don’t mix

Snot flies, aches all over, and immobility gets on the nerves. This is something everyone has experienced. A common question is when it is safe to exercise after having the flu. There is no explicit or direct answer, but here are some tips from my experiences for the post-flu stage.

Respiratory infections can roughly be divided into upper and lower respiratory tract diseases. The symptoms of upper respiratory tract diseases are commonly a runny or stuffy nose, and pain in the throat. On the other hand, lower respiratory tract diseases usually derive from the lungs, which presents itself typically as cough, irritation in the lungs and shortness of breath. Lung-oriented respiratory infections may in particular lead to sequelae, such as pneumonia and myocarditis.

There are a couple of hundred different viruses, but two types of the feisty seasonal influenza, virus A and B. All these can lead to upper respiratory infections. The common nominator for these are that they cure commonly without the need for antibiotics, unless sequelae start developing.

So at what point can I start exercising safely? Everyone knows that sports should be avoided when feverish and ill because it’s dangerous and pointless. The overall fitness will not develop when ill, and it may lead to a nasty sequela. Exercising during a flu does not result in an anabolic reaction in the muscles, and the desired workout response cannot be attained during an infection. If exercising is started too early, the recovery process is slowed down due to the sport straining the body’s immune system and causing a setback in its activities, even as late as nine hours after a hard exercise. This gives the virus a chance to activate and improve its grip in the body. From the body’s perspective, being ill is quite a civil war, while making decisions that promote the recovery is like playing a game of chess, where common sense is more than welcome.

Exercising can usually be continued when the common and lower respiratory tract symptoms are gone. Common symptoms are fever, tiredness, powerlessness and an elevated heart rate. In other words, the time is right when you feel well and throat symptoms related to respiration are gone. Several sportsmen have surely noticed how complicated the concept of feeling healthy is. That is why it is hard to assess one’s own situation in the sequelae. Immobility itself makes the body exhausted and ill.

A full recovery from a one week long feverish flue takes two to three months. Lightened exercising is continued for as long as the symptoms of the flue continue. This means that a two week flue is followed by two weeks of lightened exercising and a few day long flu doesn’t require more than a few days’ worth of recovery with lightened exercising.

So how hard should you exercise during recovery? Full speed ahead with maximum power from the first exercise? You guessed right, patience is a virtue in this case as well. Recovering and maintaining exercises, strolling around, stretching and strength training with really light weights are good as early as during the illness stage because they do not cause elevated strains or heart rate, while still minimizing the muscle loss and the loss of performance. In addition, they ease muscle jams and pains caused by resting and lying.

As the symptoms disappear, it is time to increase the exercise activity level, but in a moderate and progressive manner. The exercise can be aerobic or strength training; the essential thing is to maintain the exercise amount and intensity on a moderate level during recovery. Speed and maximum endurance training should only be started once the lightened training period is completed, provided that there haven’t been any setbacks. The performance and physical capabilities start improving when the recovery is fully over. When this occurs depends on the length of the flu and the severity of the symptoms. Even though there aren’t any significant improvements at first, the exercises are of course beneficial.

It’s important to prepare for the first post-flu exercises even better than usual. It’s beneficial to listen to the body and take care of the hydration in order to keep the mucous membranes moist and support the metabolism A light meal rich in proteins and carbohydrates before exercising and a heavier meal after training helps fill the energy supplies and speeds the recovery. The exercise itself is perfected by a good warm-up and cool-down.

Alarm bells should start ringing if the heart is racing, a shortness of breath is experienced or you’re feeling ill after the post-flu exercise. Those who monitor their heart rate should monitor whether their heart rate inclines abnormally easily and to a higher level than normal, or does not decline after the training. If exercising is started too early on or the recovery stage training has been too hard, the recovery from the training is clearly slower than usual.

So how can you prevent catching the flu before an important race with certainty? You can’t. According to studies there is a direct connection between the activity level and flus. The risk to suffer from respiratory infections is higher for those who exercise too little or very much. Good nutrition, balance between rest and training, hydration, good vitamin D and other protective nutrient levels and avoiding people masses give shelter, but nothing can be done for completely preventing illnesses and diseases. Some good luck is also required in order to avoid illnesses during important moments.