For most of us, it's just a matter of time before a bug or two lays us low over winter and if you love your workout routine or are training for an event, it can be hard to put your regime on hold while you recover fully. It could actually do more damage than good, as former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli revealed earlier this year when she spoke about a virus in the run-up to Wimbledon that left her drained and exhausted long after she had gone on to win the Grand Slam.
“It was almost a miracle from God to win Wimbledon,” she commented . “My body was falling apart, I had to retire from my second match at Eastbourne. I had a bad virus and couldn’t play,” she added. “After I won [Wimbledon], I felt I could move mountains. But my body was exhausted and I felt empty.”
On the other hand, exercise can help you feel more like your normal self again when the time is right. But when is 'right' exactly'?
Whether you’re coming down with something, in the midst of a bug or on the road to recovery, here's what the experts recommend.
Don't exercise if you have a fever or infection
A high temperature poses the greatest threat, according to Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director for the British Heart Foundation. “Definitely do not exercise if you have a fever,” he warns. “If you have a fever, exercise will increase the body’s temperature and you might be dehydrated as a result.”
The risks don’t end there. “For infections, exercise can make the symptoms worse and in the case of acute injury, you can delay the healing process in the acute stage, increase swelling and pain and the risk of sustaining another injury if balance is affected – e.g. where there’s an ankle sprain,” he adds. “It’s best to rest up and get better and only return to your usual levels of physical activity afterwards.”
Restorative yoga yes, HIIT no
On the whole, it’s best to wait until you’re back to full strength no matter what your ailment. However, less severe cases could warrant a small degree of flexibility once the worst is over. “In all but mild upper respiratory infections, it is worth laying off exercise other than exercises like gentle stretching relaxation yoga,” says Dr Knapton. "Yoga and meditation may help you relax and relieve muscular tension. That being said though, it's still best to get better first and then return when fully fit,” he adds. “Take it steady, you will be deconditioned following a period of illness, so stamina and muscular strength will have reduced.” HIIT and high impact exercises are off the table until you’re completely better.
However, minimal exercise needn’t mean the absence of any activity. “You do not need to go to bed to rest – getting up and taking it easy on a chair is best,” he says. “The movement from bed to chair – and getting dressed is better than lying flat on your back in bed.”
If you’re tempted to book in for a yoga class, go for something more restorative than something hot when recovering. “In terms of the best types, I would recommend Iyengar, Yin and even a light Vinyasa,” says personal trainer and yoga teacher, Shona Vertue . “Stay away from Bikram and Hot Yoga which are just going to deplete you of fluids. You can't 'sweat out' a cold - that is a myth that needs to be busted ASAP.”
Painkillers only mask the problem
They're more of a mask than a remedy, warns Dr Knapton and shouldn’t be relied on for helping you power through a workout. “Painkillers and cold remedies will help with the symptoms but do not aid recovery,” he cautions. “They are not a ‘cure’ – nature and time does that.”
The bottom line...
Give your body time to recover. While yoga and meditation may help relieve muscular tension or calm nerves, jumping back in too soon could have long-term ramifications. “Listen to your body and take your time!” says Shona. “It can be really easy to rush back into exercise, particularly if you've had a cold for a while and you’re absolutely bursting at the seams for a booty burning sweat session. However, you are better off waiting until you're feeling a hundred per cent so that you can get back into an exercise routine without having to stop and rest again.”
Shona’s book, The Vertue Method: A Stronger, Fitter, Healthier You, £12.99, is out now .