A checklist to determine if you can exercise after the flu

You should be fully healed before you hit the road again after a bout of flu.
You should be fully healed before you hit the road again after a bout of flu.

You made a promise to yourself that you were going to stay on track with your exercise routine this winter. Things were going well until you felt that dreaded scratch in your throat...

A while later and your symptoms are mostly gone, but are you ready to resume your workout regime?

Why you should steer clear of exercise when you're ill

As frustrating as it may be, it’s important to let your body rest and heal properly before hitting the road or the gym again.

Exercising while you are suffering from the flu can be deadly. Myocarditis is a condition where the myocardium, the middle layer of the heart wall, becomes inflamed. This condition is especially concerning when you exercise while you still have the flu. It’s known as “viral myocarditis” and happens when the flu virus invades the heart and causes damage in the form of inflammation. This can lead to a weakened heart and ultimately a heart attack.

Your checklist

But how do you know whether you're fully healed? Take the following factors into account before you lace up and start breaking a sweat:

1. Distinguish between a cold and flu

While it’s equally important that you rest properly during both conditions, it's important to know when a cold is not a cold, but full-blown flu. Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses that cause a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, a sore throat and moderate gland swelling. The duration of a cold is usually about one week and any symptom lasting longer than two weeks should be medically assessed to ensure it hasn’t become a secondary bacterial infection such as sinusitis or bronchitis. Alternatively, it could be an allergy, in which case you might need to undergo tests to see what is causing the irritation.

2. Do the neck test

If you are experiencing any symptoms above your neck such as a congested nose, sore throat and a runny nose, you can still work out, depending on how you feel. Do an initial session of ten minutes and if you are ready to continue, you can proceed with your full workout if your heart rate is normal and you feel okay.

Any symptoms below the neck, such as a congested chest, aching muscles and joints or a fever, mean that you should rest and avoid exercise.

3. Measure your heart rate

Take your resting heartbeat or pulse as soon as you wake up – either by using a fitness device, or by holding your finger to your pulse and counting the beat. A normal resting heartbeat for an adult should be anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute, depending on your size and overall fitness. If your heartbeat is higher than usual, or starts escalating wildly as soon as you start exercising, you're not yet ready for exercise.

4. Gauge your breathing

You shouldn’t be exercising if you are abnormally out of breath, or if your chest still feels full of phlegm.

5. Finish your course of antibiotics

If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics for a secondary infection such as bronchitis, it’s important that you finish the entire course, even if your symptoms are subsiding. People, however, often ask if they are ready to exercise while they are still on antibiotics. If you are planning to do a long distance running event or a tough endurance workout, Sara Crouch, a professional long-distance runner from the United States says that antibiotics can affect your overall performance as it makes you more sensitive to heat, dehydration and can affect your pace. The verdict? Be careful and listen to your body.

Winter training tips

If you’ve recently battled a bout of flu and you are slowly starting to build up your fitness, follow these tips to avoid a relapse:

  • Ease back into exercise and don’t try to jump straight back into your exercise plan. If you're following a set routine such as training for a race, you might want to repeat the week you were on before you got sick.
  • Feed your body with plenty of nutritious food.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • If you train regularly and for long periods, consume carbohydrate beverages before, during and in the two-hour period after training to maintain blood sugar levels and minimise stress hormones. This will result in improved immune function.
  • Don’t overtrain to “make up” for missed sessions. This can lead to injury and impaired immunity.
  • Consider a flu shot if you haven’t had one yet. 

Image credit: iStock

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