Health: When to get back on your bike after the flu

How to tell if it's okay to exercise

Justin sneezes

Many of us succumb to illness during the winter months, with flu viruses taking advantage of the long cold spell to spread their misery far and wide. You might just be getting over a bout, or maybe you’re feeling that familiar tickle in your nose and throat that signals a nasty bug is about to overcome your immune system. But does that mean you shouldn’t exercise?

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A temperature of 98 degrees or above is a sign that the body is fighting a bacterial or viral infection, so rest and keep your fluid levels up. No fever? You’re probably okay to exercise lightly but listen to your body and forgo harder workouts until any ‘head’ symptoms have cleared. If you feel short of breath, dizzy or weak then you haven’t rested enough.


Differentiating between ‘above’ and ‘below’ the neck symptoms is a great indicator as to whether you’re fit to exercise. Swollen glands, sore throat, muscle aches and congestion or a cough are all signs of bacterial or viral infection, so bed rest is key. If symptoms are above the neck – blocked nose, sore eyes, or mild sore throat – you’re probably fine to exercise moderately. Stop if you feel tired.


Resting heart rate is a good indication of how well you are. “If the resting level is 10 beats per minute above normal, this would be an indicator not to train,” says Dr Mark Wotherspoon, a sports physician with the English Institute of Sport. However, you have to know what your average resting heart rate is when you are healthy, so this method is most useful for those who use a heart rate monitor regularly.


Gastrointestinal symptoms – upset stomach, diarrhoea or constipation – are good reason to stay in bed, as you are likely to be dehydrated, and a lack of appetite can indicate a fever. However, if your appetite is normal and you don’t have diarrhoea, you can probably handle that short commute into work. Just remember to keep properly hydrated, and take rehydration salts or drinks to rebalance your tissue salts after an upset stomach.


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If in doubt, get on your feet and jog in place gently for 10 minutes. If you feel tired, out of breath, achy, wheezy, have a rapid heart beat or sweat more than you would normally, you need more rest. If that feels alright, repeat again the next day for 15 minutes. Still feeling okay? You’re probably on the mend and can risk a slightly longer workout.