The month of March has been a month from you-know-where around our household.
It started with the stomach flu. We thought we had it contained to just my 5 year old, but then my 3 year old threw up after preschool while at my accountant’s house. (Yes…everywhere, and then twice on the drive home. One of Murphy’s laws states that in this situation you will have forgotten your baby wipes at home and have no spare napkins in the console.)
Both boys were parked amidst towels and bowls, but fortunately dried up just in time for my husband and me to start up simultaneously at 1 am in separate bathrooms.
The stomach flu wreaked havoc on our home from Monday through Thursday, which is about when the coughing started. Once again, my oldest brought this gem home and by Sunday everyone was coughing. This innocent little cough eventually morphed into the full on flu, complete with body aches, chills, and runny nose. When my own immune system didn’t appear to be making any headway fighting this thing, the doctor promptly gave me antibiotics and Sudafed for a sinus infection.
Three solid weeks. From the first round of nausea to the last round of antibiotics, we were sick in one form or another for three full weeks.
How is it even possible to stay fit and healthy when you’re not healthy at all?
In this situation, should you try to workout still? Should you attempt to sweat it out and power through? Maybe a light workout? Or should you completely rest and sleep? Also, what should you eat?
Changing focus. When you first become ill, whether it’s a tiny cough or the full-blown flu, your focus needs to immediately switch gears. Your goal is now to get better and to assist your immune system in every way possible. You should set aside your goals of losing weight, building muscle mass, or improving performance for the time being. If you’re still actively pursuing these goals, it may take longer to get over your sickness.
Workouts create stress in the body, and when you’re healthy this is a good thing. Your body’s response to this stress is what makes it stronger and healthier. Also, when you workout regularly (moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 4 days per week), your immunity will benefit, big time. If you want to reduce your chance of getting colds, shoot for this level of activity.
But when you are sick, it can sometimes be too much stress for the immune system to handle. Piling a workout on top of sickness can make it harder for your body to get better. Your body will be trying to heal from a workout and an illness at the same time.
How bad is it? Whether or not you workout depends on the severity of your illness.
If you have a mild cold with a sore throat, some congestion, or a little cough, a mild to moderate workout may actually be helpful. This could trigger the immune system to jump into high gear and take care of the sickness too. (This is probably where the "sweat it out" mantra comes from.)
A mild to moderate workout would include walking, easy cycling, yoga, simple bodyweight movements like a dynamic warm-up, and purposeful household duties like gardening. Sometimes easy strength training (like this strength flow) is acceptable for someone who has a long training history. Anything done outside in the fresh air is the best.
A good rule of thumb here is that if you’re pouring sweat and your heart rate is dramatically elevated, it’s too much. If you just feel warm, then it’s ok.
However, if it's more than a mild cold, and you have a deep “lungy” cough, a fever, chills, or anything that feels “full system”, avoid anything more than leisurely walking. You need to focus on resting. And of course, if it’s the stomach flu, plant it somewhere and just work on keeping fluids down.
When can you do more? As you start to feel better, you may be able to start doing a little bit more. If you had something akin to the plague and have been completely resting, begin to incorporate some fresh air walks, easy yoga or bodyweight movement, or just some stretching (like this complete stretching routine) to work the kinks out.
If you only had a mild cold and have already been doing these light workouts, you can try a regular workout at a slower pace. Pull back on the intensity of your workout until you feel 100%.
Your nutrition. When you are sick, your number one priority is fluids. Keep a water bottle by your side and drink it all day long. A nice, hot tea with some lemon and honey can do wonders. And one of the reasons that soup is so beneficial when you’re sick is the fluids. You must stay well hydrated no matter what.
Do your best to eat well, of course. Your body needs access to good nutrients to heal quickly. Avoid comfort foods like chicken pot pie and crackers, and reach for nutritious foods instead. Proteins and produce are still your top priority.
Once again, soup is a great way to get these nutrients. Try my crockpot turkey sausage and kale soup or the crockpot lentil soup. These take minimal effort, are loaded with nutrients your body needs to heal, and provide plenty of leftovers so you don’t have to cook as much.
If you don’t have an appetite, eat a little bit anyway. As mentioned, your body must have protein, vitamins and minerals to heal. Smoothies are a great way to take in a lot of nutrients, even if you have no appetite. This smoothie tastes great and is refreshing. Be sure to take a multivitamin as well, just to cover your bases. Above all, get those fluids down.
Working out during the plague. Surprisingly enough, during our three-week-long bubonic plague, I managed to squeeze in a couple workouts between the stomach flu and the sinus infection. I carefully used the guidelines above, and managed to not get derailed too far off of my plan. I certainly had a lot more completely sedentary days than I’m used to, and when I did feel well enough to exercise, I needed to dramatically scale it back. (I also quickly learned that downward dogs are dreadful with a sinus infection.)
Remember, if you feel a cold coming on or you suddenly find yourself horribly ill, your top priority is to be well again as soon as possible. Scale things back, be careful with your intensity level and get some fresh air. Drink plenty of fluids and focus on good nutrition. If you take care of your body like this, your immune system will be able to do its job.
And if you have preschoolers like I do, I feel for you. The germs they can bring home are petrifying. Hang in there, momma!
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Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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