Should I Run When I’m Sick?
By Dr. Jeremy Metzler, Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician for Prevea Health
Dedicated runners venture through snow, wind, rain and sleet to make sure they stay on their training schedule. During the winter, many people get sick and wonder if running will prolong getting well. In these situations, I use the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms below the neck such as a chest cold, bronchial infection, body ache, etc., you need time off from running. If you have symptoms above the neck like a runny nose, those symptoms don’t pose a risk to runners while training. Running with a head cold, as long as you don’t push it beyond your limits, is still beneficial to your fitness.
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is an inflammation of the sinus cavity that affects 37 million Americans each year. When you have a sinus infection, most people do not feel like running. Runners should adjust their training schedules for at least three days and train in moist conditions, like a swimming pool. Running in the pool will help the nasal passages stay moist and reduce irritation, while still getting a good workout.
If your temperature is above 99 degrees, skip your run and rest. The old thought of “sweating out” a fever is untrue. Running will not help your immune system fight the fever. Running with a fever can make your fever and symptoms worse and lead to other complications. If you exercise with a fever, your temperature will rise even higher and your heart will be put under greater strain to keep your temperature from soaring. Also, a virus can cause your muscles to feel sore and achy; exercising when your muscles are already compromised could lead to injury. Runners with a fever or flu should hold off until the day after the symptoms disappear and then slowly return to your routine. Runners should wait one to two weeks before resuming pre-illness intensity and mileage. Otherwise, you may relapse or your symptoms will linger.
Here are a few precautions to stay sniffle-free this winter season:
- Slow Down – By periodically backing off on your pace during runs longer than 90 minutes in the winter will help your immune system stabilize and not break down so fast.
- Carbohydrates – Take in carbohydrates before, during and after runs. Research has shown that drinking 32 ounces of sports drink within a half hour before a long run, 32 ounces per hour while you run and 32 ounces within one hour after you finish will keep your stress hormone and inflammatory markers in check, which lowers the risk of a post-run illness.
- Cut Back Training – Training more than 60 miles a week doubles the odds you’ll come down with a cold or the flu compared to running less than 20 miles a week.
- Get Extra Rest – After a long run, take an afternoon nap or turn in early. Research has shown that eight hours of sleep helps boost immunity in the body to attack potential viruses.
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