It’s cold and flu season. I’ve already been a victim of the times and I know just how hard it is to give up on the daily exercise routine. But rest – because rest is key. Your body is run down and, annoying as it can be, it needs this time to recover.
But how long, exactly, are you supposed to rest and recover for? I needed to know how long I had to wait before I could be back on the trails, so I asked Dr Juliet McGrattan, a former GP and author of Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health. “It’s a good question and there is certainly no ‘one-size fits all’ answer,” she begins, “but there are some general principles and guidelines that you might find useful.”
Be honest with yourself
Firstly, you need to establish whether you’ve had the flu or just a mean old cold. With flu, we’re talking days of being bed-bound, sore throat, muscle pain and vomiting. The recovery from flu is going to take a lot longer than the enforced chill after a simple runny nose. The worse it is, the longer the recovery time required. “It sounds obvious, but sometimes we’re unrealistic and have the wrong expectations of ourselves,” says McGrattan.
READ MORE: 5 recipes and natural remedies to zap your cold in its tracks
Another important thing to clarify: Are you actually better? After feeling rotten, just feeling slightly better can trick you into thinking that you have recovered fully – but you might still be ill. “You need to wait a bit longer,” says McGrattan. “You need to be able to get through normal daily activities comfortably before you exert yourself too much.” Think about it this way: If you can get through a normal work day without feeling like you’ve been hit by a train, then you should be up for some easy exercise.
Worth the wait?
McGrattan is a runner and truly understands the temptation to cut the cold and flu recovery short – “[but] it’s worth waiting a few extra days.” When you’re ill, your heart rate will be higher than normal. You might also be dehydrated. “Extra exertion will push your heart rate up further.” This can cause you to feel light-headed – but, more worryingly, it can trigger harmful heart rhythms.
READ MORE: Gross but true: science says you need your phlegm when you get sick
Getting back into it
Once you are able to get through a full day of work, you can start to ease yourself back into your workout routine. Remember, you won’t magically bounce back to your pre-cold fitness level, so take it easy.
“Start with something very low intensity, like a short walk, and gradually build up,” says McGrattan. It’s also important to rest. Make sure you get enough sleep every night. “If you feel overtired, then cut back.”
READ MORE: These are the 7 best tips to stay super healthy during flu season
You also need to take in the proper fuel. “You may have lost weight and used up energy stores during your illness. Your body needs to repair itself,” explains McGrattan. Read: Veggies, fruit and lots of water.
Finally, McGrattan advises that feeling guilty is pointless. Everyone gets sick and it’s hardly your fault. Your goals are still there and waiting, so stay positive and look after your body.
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This article was first published on Women's Health SA.