Cold and Flu: Minimising Risk and Knowing When to Stop Training

Lisa Tyack - braving minus 5 degrees for a running race!

Lisa Tyack - braving minus 5 degrees for a running race!

As I sit here writing this blog, I am trying to fight off this two week long cold with my homemade remedy. For the last year, I have felt great and managed to avoid the cold and flu, which made it even harder when I was recently struck down with a cold one week before a big race. This made me take a step back and think “should I be exercising with a cold or flu?”

I’m sure many of you have heard the saying “If it’s below the head, stay in bed”, and to be honest, it’s pretty spot on! Let me start by making a simple differentiation between the common cold or the flu. The cold and flu are both caused by viruses, but the differentiation is the type of virus that causes each. The flu (aka influenza) is always caused by one of the influenza viruses, whilst the cold can be caused by more than 200 different viruses (the most common being rhinovirus). Symptoms of the flu and cold include; runny nose, sinus congestion, sneezing and a sore throat. Fever, fatigue, muscle aches, severe cough and headaches are more commonly associated with the flu. Generally, symptoms can last for a week or even longer. When people say "Don’t worry, the contagious part is over" and you are thinking “I don’t care – stay away from me!”, they can actually be right, as the most likely time to pass on a cold is often in the first 24-48 hours (when you often don’t even have any symptoms).

So if unfortunately like me you have come down with a cold or flu, it leaves you with the question, "Should I continue training?". The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following; 
- If you have purely a head cold or sore throat, you may continue to exercise, however your intensity should be monitored (moderate activity is recommended, rather than strenuous, intense activity).
- If your symptoms include a fever, swollen glands, extreme aches and pains and respiratory infections, you should rest until these symptoms have subsided. Once they have stopped, gradually return to exercise.
Remember that basic exercise physiology supports that taking two weeks off training will not affect your overall aerobic fitness if you usually train consistently. Your body is fighting for energy to help you get better, so don’t further deprive your body of this energy by exercising when you shouldn’t. I have personally gone against this advice for an important race, and I can tell you I suffered badly and would never do it again.

So how do I minimise my risk of getting the flu or a cold?
There are so many remedies, medications and a lot of advertisements out there filling you with an overload of information on how to get through the ‘flu season’ unscathed. As the seasons are changing and the temperatures cool down, we often blame the cold weather on ‘catching a cold’, however plenty of doctors actually support that this is not the cause of a cold. They suggest that there is an increased occurrence owing to;
- People spend more time inside due to the weather, which means generally there are more people in confined spaces, resulting in a larger spread of the flu.
- People typically decrease their amount of physical activity due to bad weather which generally leads to a higher occurrence of the flu.
Now, I’m not saying sit inside your bedroom and never leave for the next 3 months and avoid all contact with people, but some simple tips can go a long way.

Washing your hands with ethyl alcohol hand gel is actually more effective than washing your hands with soap and water or an anti-bacterial soap at reducing the occurrence of a cold.  

Exercise and a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables has been well established as one of the most effective ways to decrease the occurrence of a cold or flu. In one study, 115 women were divided into two groups – one exercised for 45 minutes, five days a week for a year, whilst the other stretched for 45 minutes once a week. The occurrence of colds was three times higher in the stretching group compared to the exercising group, suggesting that exercise boosts the immune system. In a study examining 700 recreational runners, 61% of runners reported they had fewer colds since they began running. Walking has also shown to be effective at minimising the occurrence of colds – one study examined 150 people who walked regularly for 12 weeks and found they developed half the number of sore throats and colds of those who are less active.
A study has also found that out of 40 men and women who had the flu shot, the 20 who completed exercise and hour prior to having their shot actually had a better immune response to the shot. When you exercise, immune cells circulate through the body faster, meaning they are able to kill bacteria and viruses quicker, allowing a better chance of fighting off the flu. Sometimes, extreme strenuous exercise can increase your risk of getting a cold, which often happens to marathon runners and triathletes after a big event so remember to know your limits and look after yourself post event.

Eat.Often when we are are sick and not exercising, we worry about the amount of calories consumed because we are eating as normal, but decreasing our physical activity. Don't worry! Our bodies need energy to help our cells fight off our sickness. Depriving ourselves of calories will only slow the fighting process down. Ensure these are health foods of course!

Sleep can affect the occurrence of colds and flus. The American Council on Exercise reports that major sleep disruption (5 hours or less per night) can suppress the immune system, resulting in a higher occurrence of illness.

Honey! A study comparing honey to a common cough medicine in adults has found that honey may be more efficient in preventing and/or improving the recovery from an infection or illness. Darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, has more antimicrobial compounds and antioxidant activity. My home made remedy I have started using is 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of honey warmed up!

Echinacea, zinc and Vitamin C are a topic of hot debate and are traditionally used to combat cold symptoms. Recent research analysing the effect Vitamin C has on decreasing the occurrence or severity of cold symptoms is fairly inconclusive. Zinc plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, however its effectiveness in fighting symptoms of the common cold still remains controversial, with weak evidence supporting the use of zinc lozenges to reduce cold duration. Echinacea may reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms such as the severity of a cough, headache and nasal congestion. Personally, if I feel these supplements help in any way, I will take them, but I will not rely on them to make my cold go away.  

Remember, it comes down to the individual and you have to stick with what works for you. Always consult a doctor if your symptoms are not getting any better. Rather than locking yourself away and avoiding sick people for the rest of your life, it appears a healthy lifestyle with exercise, adequate sleep and hand washing hygiene remain the easiest, most effective ways to stay away from the flu this season.

Happy training and stay healthy!

Kate 

 

 

References
Chest & throat ailments : 20 AIDS TO EASE COLD & FLU ILLS. (2014). In National Geographic, National Geographic complete guide to natural home remedies: 1,025 easy ways to live longer, feel better, and enrich your life. Washington, District of Columbia: National Geographic Society. 

Cold and flu survival guide. (2012). In Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School special health reports. Boston, MA: Harvard Health Publications. 

McMillan, S., Gildiner, C., Brady, C., & Crook, A. (2001). ask an expert. Chatelaine, 74(3), 30

Moyad, M. A. (2009). Conventional and Alternative Medical Advice for Cold and Flu Prevention: What Should Be Recommended and What Should Be Avoided?. Urologic Nursing, 29(6), 455-458

Neville, K. (2008). Combating Colds, Fending Off the Flu: What Works?. Environmental Nutrition, 31(1), 2.

Stanten, M., & Yeager, S. (2001). Beat the Cold and Flu Season. Prevention, 53(12), 70.

Staying Active and Healthy on Holiday

This blog was inspired by my recent trip to the Seychelles for the New Year, whilst taking a break from structured training and work. This was my first holiday in while which involved no training or racing.

I am a big believer in everything in moderation and like to take advantage of travelling to new places, exploring, indulging in local food and having fun. I knew that over this holiday I would indulge in some tasty food (especially over the festive season!) and not be as active as usual, but wanted to maintain fitness and not gain too much weight.

This blog describes some of my guidelines to stay fit and healthy during your holiday, without sacrificing the food you want and importantly, not taking up too much precious holiday time.

Keeping active

Depending on where you are staying, and who you are with, it can be quite easy to stay active and burn calories on holiday. Many hotels have a fitness centre which is an easy option, especially if you are somewhere the weather doesn’t facilitate being active outside. A simple gym program can take 30 minutes and can be cardio or weights based. If you are looking for a quick and time efficient way to burn calories on holiday, jump on a treadmill, exercise bike or cross trainer and complete the following simple workout:

5 minutes easy warm–up
1 minute HARD, followed by 1 minute very easy, 2 minutes HARD, followed by 2 minutes very easy. Repeat 3x.
5 minutes easy cool-down walk

This quick cardio workout will raise your heart rate and definitely make you sweat!

If you are somewhere weather permitting and good for exploring, staying active can be both simple and sociable. Walking is a fantastic form of exercise as well as a great way to explore. Many holiday destinations have designated walks in nature reserves which is a great way to discover your destination with friends. Another way to stay active is to walk or cycle to and from local places instead of a taking a car or taxi. My favourite option is to hire a local bike to explore. This will get your heart rate up and allow you to explore your surroundings at your own pace.

If you would like a more structured workout program, below is my favourite exercise routine to do on holiday. Best of all, it requires no equipment and can be done at the park, beach or even inside your hotel room.

Body weight lunges x 8
Tricep Dips (using a bench/table/chair) x 8
Push–ups (or knee push–ups) x 8
Plank 30 seconds – 1 minute
Burpees (sorry!) x 10
Mountain climbers x 40
Repeat circuit 3x

Take 15 seconds rest between each exercise and 2 minutes between each set 

Lunges

Lunges

Tricep Dips

Tricep Dips

Push-ups

Push-ups

Plank

Plank

Burpees

Burpees

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

In general, you don’t have to go out of your way to find a gym or spend hours maintaining your exercise program whilst you are away. Staying active on holidays can be fun and sociable. 

Eating well on holiday

Following the same belief as above, when it comes to eating I am all about enjoying food in moderation. Depending on where you are traveling, eating well can be fairly easy. In the Seychelles there was a wide variety of delicious fish, usually served with rice or lentils, which is healthier than many other traditional foods.

A few key things to remember when trying to eat healthy are:
- Choose a healthy side. Opting for a side salad or vegetables is always preferable to less nourishing alternatives such as fries.
- Indulge every second meal rather than every meal. You will feel better for it and likely enjoy your ‘indulgent' meal more.
- Control portion size. Some restaurants may give bigger serving sizes then usual.
- Drink sufficient water. It's very easy to consume unnecessary calories through soft drinks or alcoholic drinks.
- Alternate desserts. If you have a sweet tooth, every second night try swapping a rich and high–calorie choice for a lighter option, such as fresh local fruit.
- Eat breakfast. Always ensure you have a satisfying, filling breakfast to kick start your metabolism and stop you from snacking later in the day on extra unhealthy foods.

Hopefully these tips will help you stay active and healthy whilst having fun and enjoying your holiday! If you have any further questions, please feel free to get in contact

Happy training and stay healthy! 

Kate    

Strength Training and Weight Loss

Over time I have heard so many myths about strength work in females, many of which stem simply from miseducation. The benefits associated with strength work are numerous, some of which include:

- Preventing bone loss and improvement in bone density
- Improvements in mood, anxiety and confidence for physical activity
- Improved stress management and decreased symptoms of clinical depression
- Reduction in heart disease risk factors (eg. reduced waist circumference, decrease in blood pressure and glucose levels)
-  Improvements in balance and co-ordination which can assist in activities during daily living
- Weight loss

Over the coming months, I will publish a series of blogs, each focusing on a different component of the benefits of strength work. Today’s blog will focus on the weight loss benefits from incorporating strength training within your exercise routine. All of the following information is evidence based and scientifically researched.

What is strength training?  Put simply, strength training is a form of exercise where you use your body to push against different forms of resistance, such as resistance machines, free weights and body weight. Generally, a good strength training program will consist of 3 – 5 sets of 3 -10 repetitions of a heavy weight.  The exact number of sets and repetitions will depend on your fitness levels, experience and goals.

The latest evidence has shown that inactive adults experience anywhere from 3-8% of muscle loss every 10 years. This correlates with a reduced resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy used by the body) and increased fat accumulation around the body.

One study showed that after a 10-week strength training program, resting metabolic rate increased on average by 7%. This increased resting metabolic rate of course means that you can burn more energy at rest. Strength training produces this change because muscle has a high rate of metabolism. The more you train your muscles through strength training, the greater the changes in your metabolism. By incorporating strength training into a program, this can result in a higher resting metabolic rate which in turn contributes to weight loss.

A separate study also displayed that strength work also assists in preventing weight gain, especially in visceral fat (around the abdominals and internal organs) and fat around the thighs.

DSC01061.JPG

For optimal results from a strength training program, it is recommended to complete strength work in conjunction with aerobic exercise and healthy eating. Ensuring that you use correct technique and weights when commencing a strength training program is vital to prevent the risk of injury. Therefore, it is recommended to commence a strength program with professional guidance.

Over the coming months I'll be releasing more blogs regarding other benefits from strength training, so if you've found today's blog interesting, please check back! If you have any questions, please feel free to get in contact.

Happy training and stay healthy!
Kate