The Common Cold in the age of COVID ( and exercise…)

I got a cold.

Last Tuesday evening I got a familiar tickle in the back of my throat. Familiar because that’s how my colds start, when I get them. It’s this very predictable progression.

  • I get the tickle in my throat.
  • I rationalize that it’s anything else but a cold. I clear my throat 20 or 40 times. I drink lots of water.
  • The tickle doesn’t go away.
  • I face facts and get ready for the rest of it.

I’m actually kinda surprised that it’s been this long coming. I haven’t had a cold since this whole silly COVID business started almost 18 months ago. If you asked me about it before, I’d have said I get a cold 1-2 times a year. It’s a pain & uncomfortable, but no big deal. So I would have thought that I’m doing alright with 18 months between cases, and it’s just my turn.

But now there’s something else to think about first. Is it the garden variety, nothing special cold that it feels like, or is it….. ( ominous music…..dun..dun…DUN!!!!)

….COVID??!!

Luckily, it’s not too tough to get an answer to that question. Everyone and their Aunt Phil is offering COVID testing, including my G.P. (General Practitioner) who’s a 5 min walk from my place.

It’s not COVID. “whew”!

So after you get that worry out of the way, you are reminded that a plain old common cold is still an exhausting, phlegmy, pain in the butt.

Runny nose, congestion, my voice sounds like Barry White got old, bald and white. Yuck.

So next question….Can I workout?

I know, maybe not YOUR next question, but that’s how this brain works. If I just sit around, blowing my nose, hacking and binge watching Downton Abbey, I’m going to feel like a large, squishy slug. Not my preference.

I got a 5k run (kinda) in a week.
I got a 14k race in 3 weeks.
I need to get work in.

But should I?

Let’s get some experts involved here.

Colds are the result of the immune system being activated, explains Cordelia Carter, M.D., director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at NYU-Langone in New York.
“This ‘activation’ directs immune cells to migrate to the site of infection, to recruit and produce other cells and proteins to help fight the infection, and to prevent reinfection with the same bug in the future,” Carter says. In other words, your body is using energy by supporting your immune system to fight off the cold. And the amount of energy your body needs to fight an infection is dependent on the type of infection you’re trying to stave off and how severe it is.

But what about “sweating out a cold”, a concept I’ve heard and used to justify numerous “I feel like crap but I’m gonna work out anyway” sessions. Well…

According to Terry Kang, MD, UnityPoint Health
When trying to decide if you should consider sweating out a cold, it’s helpful to understand the effect exercise has on the body. Dr. Kang says working out usually boosts the body’s metabolism, as well as the body’s immune response. However, an intense workout usually has the opposite effect.
“During exercise, our body releases chemicals to repair itself and control the level of stress in our body. This is helpful in fighting of infections. When the levels of exercise get too intense, steroid is released by our body to fight off stress. Steroids decrease the ability of the cells that fight off infections to work and lowered our immunity, temporarily.” He says any mild to moderate, low-impact exercise for shorter periods of time, like 30 minutes, is OK and allows the body to boost immunity and metabolism to fight off infections, like a cold. Here are his recommendations for exercise / activity while sick:
Walking
Light jogging
Yoga
Meditation

Exercising for long amounts of time, like two hours, isn’t a good idea and neither are any high-intensity options. Exercises you should skip while sick include:
Long races (like marathons)
Heavy lifting
Intense, interval-style workouts

Also, if your body is working to fight an infection, you may be weaker than normal and more vulnerable to injury. Also, if you are exercising when sick, make sure to focus on hydration. Drink plenty of fluids, and keep electrolytes in check with Pedialyte or other drinks containing electrolytes. Dr. Kang suggests skipping sports drinks, because while they may contain electrolytes, they also have a great deal of sugar, which can lead to diarrhea.

Great. Diarrhea. Icing on the “I’m miserable over here’ cake…
…but I digress…

There are imore serious llness signs you shouldn’t ignore, especially if you are considering moderate to heavy exercise. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s just best to stay home and rest.
Fever
Muscle & joint pain
Vomiting
Headache
Diarrhea
“These symptoms are generally signs the infection is wide spread. It’s also a sign your body is busy fighting off infection and needs resources directed toward fighting off infection”, says Dr. Kang

So, to summarize, using a study involving mice….

Three sets of mice were given flu virus. The first set included sedentary mice and least number of mice from this group caught the flu. The second set did 120 minutes of running on treadmill. Unfortunately, they had the highest number of flu infection and death from it. The third and last set of mice performed light running on a treadmill. This group had a higher number of flu infection than the sedentary group, but they recovered faster and the number of deaths was much less. From this experiment, the conclusion was that light exercise can expose you to more flu, but you can recover faster and have fewer complications.

You know what sticks with me from this study?
120 minutes on a treadmill?
Maybe the mice wanted to die.

OK, sounds like light to moderate exercise, as described above, is the smartest way to approach activity while sick.

I promise. I will fully consider being moderate and not, say, go run. Especially if it involves hills & stairs in midday heat.

I will fully consider it.

Talk later,
Bob

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