Exercising with a cold or flu

For any avid sportsperson or enthusiastic exerciser, being struck down by a cold or flu usually means having to put any sporting or fitness routine on hold… or does it?

The rules aren’t entirely black and white. Sometimes when you’re sick, exercise can make things worse and prolong your recovery time. But other times, there’s no need to retire to the bench.

Here are some general pointers on what to do about exercise if you have a cold or flu:

HIGH FEVER – ON THE BENCH
If the thermometer is tipping 38.5°C, it’s best to hang up your boots and sit this one out.

Fever is a sign that your body is fighting an infection. One of the best ways you can help your immune system fight your cold or flu is by resting and giving yourself time and energy to recover. Also, the higher the fever the more prone you are to dehydration — and exercise might make this worse especially if you don’t keep up your fluid intake.

So if the mercury is in the red zone put yourself on the injury list so you can rest, rehydrate with plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids, and fast-track your recovery back to exercise. And by staying out of the game you also help prevent the spread of a cold or flu to your team mates and gym buddies.

RUNNY, BLOCKED OR SNEEZING NOSE – PLAY ON
Although sneezing, nasal congestion and a runny nose is no reason to give up the gym, it can get in the way of exercising comfortably.

Saline (salt water) sprays or drops can help clear out nasal mucus. But a remedy may be as close as the change room! If you have a blocked nose, inhaling steam from a shower can help clear out some of the congestion.

Exercise in itself might also help clear your nasal passages and relieve congestion. But remember it’s still important to listen to your body, and if the exercise makes you feel worse, weak or dizzy, it’s best to stop until you feel better.

COUGHING AND TIGHTNESS IN THE CHEST – ON THE BENCH

If you have symptoms from the neck down — like a cough or chest congestion — it’s best to rest until they begin to improve. These symptoms might feel worse and make it more difficult for you to breathe when you exercise.

Coughing and chest problems might also be related to your other medical conditions — a cold or flu, for example, can aggravate asthma for some people.

So if you’re coughing and spluttering give your workout a miss and see your doctor if another of your conditions worsens during a cold or flu.

SORE THROAT – ASK THE UMPIRE
A sore throat is usually the first symptom that hits when you have a cold. While you have a sore throat you can usually undertake mild to moderate intensity exercise without problems. But if your sore throat is severe or very painful it’s best to see your doctor first to ensure you don’t have another more serious illness.

EXTREME FATIGUE, ACHES AND PAINS – ON THE BENCH

If you’re feeling fatigued and too tired to exercise, then you’re probably too tired to exercise!
The flu in particular can cause tiredness as well as aches and pains in muscles, joints or in the limbs. Give your body time out, put your feet up, soak in a bath and give those achy muscles a rest until you’re back in fighting form.

TAKING A MEDICINE FOR SYMPTOMS – ASK THE UMPIRE
Always find out about the potential side effects of any medicine and whether it’s suitable for you to take — including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, minerals, or herbal remedies for colds or flu.

Some medicines can affect your heart rate or blood pressure, make you sick or upset in the stomach, cause cramps or diarrhoea. If side effects with a medicine are impacting on your ability to exercise, it’s best to sit on the sidelines until they get better.

You should also talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re experiencing side effects, or if you’re unsure whether or not you can exercise while taking a medicine.

You can also find information about side effects from the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet for your medicine if one is available. Get a CMI from your doctor or pharmacist, download a copy from www.nps.org.au/search_by_medicine_name, or call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.

WHEN CAN I REJOIN THE TEAM?
If you have been put on the bench due to a cold or flu, it can be hard to know when to get back into exercise. Generally symptoms are at their worst after 2–3 days of your illness and last about 5–8 days. But some symptoms like a cough and tiredness can last for 2–3 weeks.

Once you’ve recovered from severe symptoms like fever, aches and chest tightness you may be able to return to light exercise, progressing slowly back to your normal routine.

But if you feel worse when you do go back to exercise it’s probably best to wait a few more days before getting back into the swing of things. And remember every illness is different, so check with your doctor if you are unsure when the best time is to start exercising again.

NEED MORE INFORMATION?
You can find out more about colds, flu and other respiratory tract infections at www.nps.org.au/conditions/respiratory_tract_infections