Cold and Flu Season and Paddling
Last year, I managed to get through the entire winter without a single cold. I chocked it up to good self care: resting when I needed to, along with using essential oils and other natural strategies to stay healthy.
Apparently this year, I’ve not been so lucky. The dry air and our ever changing, flip-flopping weather here in North Carolina set my sinuses up to take a major hit, and add into that working once again in a cubicle environment and in the retail arena, and I am down. Like many folks I know.
So, as paddle athletes, what to do about our workouts when we’ve got the crud?
I am not a medical professional, but lucky for us, there’s this thing called Google. And according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, the general recommendation for exercise when one is sick is as follows:
“Exercise is usually OK if your symptoms are all ‘above the neck.’ These signs and symptoms include those you may have with a common cold, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. … Don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.”
Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, also offers these additional recommendations:
- Mild to moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a common cold and no fever. Exercise may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion.
- Consider reducing the intensity and length of your workout. Instead of going for a run, take a walk, for example.
- Don’t exercise if your signs and symptoms are “below the neck,” such as chest congestion, a hacking cough or upset stomach.
- Don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.
- Let your body be your guide. If you feel miserable, take a break. A few days off from exercise when you’re sick shouldn’t affect your performance. Resume your normal workout routine gradually as you begin to feel better. Check with your doctor if you aren’t sure if it’s OK to exercise.
- If you do choose to exercise when you’re sick, reduce the intensity and length of your workout. If you attempt to exercise at your normal intensity when you have more than a simple cold, you could risk more-serious injury or illness.
What about exercising in the cold, when you aren’t sick?
Can it make you sick?
According to the health website HealthLine, the cold itself isn’t the culprit:
“In terms of infectious illnesses, germs make you sick, not cold weather itself. You have to come in contact with rhinoviruses to catch a cold. And you need to be infected with influenza viruses to contract the flu. Rhinoviruses peak in spring and fall, and influenza viruses peak in the winter.”
Similarly, the LiveStrong site offers this bit of insight:
“Cold weather actually might activate your immune system, increasing your norepinephrine, a hormone that works as a natural decongestant. However, some aspects of the winter season might increase your chances of getting sick. Cold air causes vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, in your nose and airways, leading to dryness. The mucus in your nose helps prevent infections, so when it is dried out, your body has one less defense against viruses and bacteria. Indoor heating also dries out the air, which in turn can dry out your nasal passageways and increase your risk of illness.”
For me, cold air can trigger my exercise-induced asthma and can lead to respiratory issues. I’m pretty sure the dry air bit is what’s got me down this time. One of the hardest things for us to do when we are sick is to rest, but if we don’t, it can make things like a respiratory infection worse. I learned that the hard way with two bouts of pneumonia several years ago.
Several years ago, I listened to a really helpful segment on the nationally syndicated Public Radio program, The People’s Pharmacy with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, who integrates “western” medicine with the use of herbs for dealing with ailments like the common cold. I’ve found her book Healthy at Home to be really useful, especially when it seems like I just can’t take another over-the counter cold prep. Using herbs like oregano, thyme and sage can do wonders for soothing the symptoms of winter colds. And even if there’s nothing too it, they at least are comforting.
So, I’m going to go make another cup of honey and lemon and ginger tea, crank up the humidifier and prepare for another day on the couch with surf movies and maybe Love Actually. If you’re out there paddling, stay strong and healthy, and if you’re with me, in sick bay, take good care of yourself!