You may have already experienced the effect yourself: regular exercise strengthens the immune system for a variety of reasons. Athletes are much less frequently affected by colds or other acute diseases than non-athletes. However, even the most resistant Free Athlete can still get ill. Whether it’s the summer flu, the cold or the gastrointestinal disease that has already affected everyone around you. If you do get ill, an absolute break in training is very necessary – even if it is only a slight cold and you still feel quite energetic!
High Intensity and the Open Window
When it comes to easy and moderate sports, continuing to exercise whilst you have a cold can have a positive effect. This is not the case for Freeletics! High-intensity training is a physical challenge and needs to work with your immune system in order to further regeneration. This means that during training, the immune system is thus restricted when it comes to fighting pathogens. The pathogens can therefore continue to spread unhindered. The result: after a workout you are sicker than before! This effect is also referred to as “open window.” So take care to keep that window closed by staying in bed and resting- otherwise the cold can easily spread to other areas of your body!
While the Open Window does no real harm to a healthy Free Athlete, it may become life-threatening when it comes to bacterial or viral infections. If too many immune cells are involved in regeneration processes, the pathogens can travel through the bloodstream without any obstacles and – in the worst case – reach the heart. Increased cardiovascular activity through exercise accelerates this process even more and the result could be a dangerous myocardial inflammation!
How long should I rest?
As a rule of thumb: With slight illnesses such as a mild cold or a runny nose you can continue exercising as soon as the symptoms are completely gone – not when you feel good again but when no more residual symptoms appear.
With feverish diseases or infections that require the use of antibiotics, the training break extends not only to the acute phase. The risk of a bacterial or viral infestation of the heart muscle is further increased then. Even if, subjectively, you already fit again and don’t notice anymore symptoms! In most cases the disease lasts longer than the symptoms involved – especially when symptom-relieving medicine was taken. The immune system is still in a weakened state and needs time to regenerate fully.
This particularly applies to the use of antibiotics because they do not distinguish between harmful and beneficial bacteria and further weaken the body. It is generally advisable to wait for at least the same period over which the medication was taken. For example: when taking antibiotics over a period of six days, you have to wait a minimum of a further six days before returning to exercise – better add two more days. The body’s defense not only needs time to recover from the infection itself, but also from the effect of the antibiotic.
Similarly with fever: an increase in body temperature is an extreme measure of the immune system. When you return to a normal temperature, this does not mean the illness is finished but only that the worst is over. The fight against the pathogens continues at full speed, so generally, you should pause training for at least another week after the last feverish day.
However, it is important to remember that the main rule is still to consult first your doctor about how long you should take a break for. Only he can individually determine which period is appropriate for you.
The good news: In the long run you become healthier!
As dangerous as training can be for a sick Athlete, it can actually be very conducive for a healthy one! Physical activity has been considered the best prophylaxis against diseases for a long time – whether chronic or acute. High-intensity training stimulates the immune system, cell growth, blood circulation and assists the body in dealing with the stress hormone cortisol – which is not an unimportant factor, as stress is one of the most common causes of diseases!
For those who simply cannot wait until the end of the rest period, it is important to know that a weakened body hardly reacts to training stimuli. So take your rest with a clear conscience, increase the workload and the intensity thereafter slowly and moderately, and after a few days of acclimatization you can take off with full speed again!
Use the break to prepare yourself mentally for your return to training. What can you do better? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? Inform yourself about the structure and functionality of your body to train even more effectively.