I have been fighting some crud for the past few days, but until today I have been able to ride. This morning, I woke up with a stuffy head and sore throat, and I just felt that the benefits of biking just would not outweigh the drawbacks, and so I caved in and drove. I usually feel pretty pathetic when I drive, and I think the guilt (albeit self-imposed) is a healthy way to not allow myself to settle for driving as regularly. In addition to mentally feeling pathetic, my body feels more sluggish on the days that I drive. I’m not as awake when I get to work, and I am generally more tired throughout the day due to the lack of early morning pedaling. The fresh air and exercise are also great “stress-busters” – and yes I know this will not be news to any reader of this website.
There are basic principals of health/anatomy/immunology that govern how the body responds to physical stress when fighting illness. The Mayo clinic online covered this topic and gave the general statement that if your symptoms are above the neck – stuffy nose, sore throat – then it is safe to proceed with exercise. If symptoms are below the neck – congested chest, hacking cough or fever – it is wise to refrain from exercise. At this point, the health-boosting effects of exercise will cease to apply.
Some of us (myself included at times) think that we can “sweat out” a sickness by engaging in intense exercise when fighting a cold. While this may help relieve simple symptoms like stuffiness, in the end you are most likely going to hurt your body’s ability to fight the sickness. “Your immune system fights best when it isn’t stressed,” says MedicineNet.
Your immune system fights most effectively when it isn’t stressed. Research studies show that a moderate fitness program helps boost the immune system, lessening the chances you’ll fall ill with a cold or flu. But scientists also note that a single rigorous exercise session or race can actually make you more susceptible to bacterial or viral infection.
So listen to your body when you feel sick and need to rest — a hard workout could impair your immune system for several hours, allowing unwelcome guests to make your illness worse.
And make sure you give your body enough time to recover before you return to exercise after a serious illness like the flu. Come back too soon and you may actually send yourself into a relapse of the illness, which further slows your return to everyday activities.
I will say that bike commuting has seemed to help my body prevent illness these past months. I have historically gotten sick twice a year for as long as I can remember: in the fall and then again as winter gets close to spring. This is the first time that I have felt sick in over a year, and it has certainly been less intense than experiences past.
So as I go heat up some chicken noodle soup and down a gallon of water, at what point do you, the reader, say “enough is enough?”