Working Out During Cold & Flu Season

I’ve only recently realized that there’s more than cold weather and busy schedules working against my exercise regime during this time of year. It’s also the cold and flu season.

Although many hardcore exercise enthusiasts will simply work through their illness, is this always the best decision? When is it safe to work out and when should you take some time off? Also, are there any ways you should modify your workouts to encourage a speedy recovery?

When to Continue

According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, of the Mayo Clinic, a general rule of thumb is that moderate exercise is usually safe as long as your symptoms are “above the neck.” This include symptoms that accompany the common cold, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. These things don’t have to derail your exercise routine, provided you feel OK energy-wise.

In fact, a series of studies conducted at Ball State University showed that not only will a minor cold not impair your performance, but moderate exercise might actually help you recover more quickly.

Regular exercise, accompanied by a good night’s sleep, can be a powerful boost to your immune system. Not only does the act of exercising itself help white blood cells, which fight disease, travel more quickly through your body, but it also affects the hormones that control your sleep cycles. So exercise indirectly helps you sleep more deeply, allowing your immune system to repair itself more effectively.

When to Take a Break

Conversely, “below the neck symptoms” like chest congestion, a hacking cough or digestive problems shouldn’t be ignored. A fever is another symptom you shouldn’t try to exercise through. Listen to your body and give it a rest.

If you’re experiencing muscles soreness or fatigue, take the day off as well, since exercising will only worsen your symptoms. If you have any doubts, discuss your symptoms and your routine with your doctor.

Getting Back in the Game

Just because your fever has passed and you only have a slight sniffle, it doesn’t mean you should launch back into your normal routine immediately. When you’re still dealing with the minor “above the head” symptoms, keep your exercise to a moderate level even if that means lowering your regular intensity. If you normally run, you may need to jog or even walk until you are completely recovered.

You may also need to cut back on the length of your workouts. Doctor Howard LeWine, of Harvard Health Publications, warns that viral infections like the flu can weaken the heart, leaving it susceptible to damage by strenuous exercise. Stop if you feel exhausted or have difficulty breathing. Be especially careful if you start to develop tightness and coughing in your chest.

Have you struggled to maintain your workout schedule despite a cold or flu? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/AN01097

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/health/nutrition/25best.html?_r=0

http://healthyliving.msn.com/diseases/cold-and-flu/working-out-after-flu-1

Postpartum Fitness: How to Get Back in Shape After Having a Baby

After giving birth last fall, one of the first questions I had for my midwife was, “When can I exercise again?” I ran until I was 7 months pregnant, when I had to hang up my running shoes due to health concerns. So I couldn’t wait to get moving again. (Information on keeping a safe running routine throughout pregnancy can be found here.)

But starting a fitness plan postpartum requires that you take special care. Whether you’re an athlete eager to get back into your favorite sport or you’re looking for a way to shed the pregnancy pounds, you can safely get in shape after having a baby.

Getting Started

Being active boasts a bunch of health benefits for new moms. Exercise can boost your energy, reduce postpartum fatigue, fight stress, improve your mood, strengthen your muscles and help you lose weight. Plus, you’ll be setting up lifelong healthy habits and be a good role model for your child.

Before you head to the gym, though, you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or midwife. Delivering a baby takes a toll on your body, and it can take weeks to recover (or even months if you delivered by cesarean section or had a difficult childbirth). Rest is usually best in the first few weeks after having a baby.

Experts say that most postpartum women can do some light walking as soon as they feel up to it. In general, women who delivered vaginally can start more vigorous exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, and women who delivered by C-section can engage in more intense activity 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth. But know that every woman is different and recovery times vary. Always ask your doctor how long you should wait after the birth of your baby before resuming or starting an exercise program.

Sticking With It

Still, even if you have clearance from your doctor, wait until your body feels ready before you move from walking to more intense activities. Once you feel ready to exercise, follow these tips for success:

·         Ease into it. Doing too much before your body is healed can be a recipe for disaster. You risk injury if you jump into intense exercise too soon. Take it slow and, in time, you’ll be able to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout sessions.

·         Have realistic expectations. You just had a baby! You are likely sleep deprived and stressed. If you don’t have the stamina for your planned workout one day, don’t sweat it. Just take a walk instead. Remember that even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Pop baby into a jogging stroller and get going! (with luck he’ll even finally fall asleep!)

·         Stay well hydrated. Be mindful to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. This is especially crucial for breast-feeding women because you lose fluids during nursing sessions. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel more energized and combat fatigue.

·         Plan ahead if you’re breast-feeding. In the first few months postpartum, you may feel more comfortable if you exercise immediately after nursing your baby. Note that working out will not negatively impact your milk supply.

·         Watch for warning signs. If you have bright red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period, stop exercising at once and get medical help.

New moms: how do you make time for fitness? I like to multi-task; I used to lift weights and do jumping jacks while my son played on his activity mat.

Sources:

http://www.permanente.net/homepage/kaiser/pdf/116.pdf

http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq131.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121001T1136080662

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-after-pregnancy/MY00477/NSECTIONGROUP=2

The Many Benefits of a Morning Workout

Not many of us wake up, hop out of bed with full energy and can zealously tackle our workout first thing in the morning. The natural inclination is often to put if off, generally until the end of the day, when all the other important things like work and school have been accomplished.

But is this wise? What are the benefits of a morning workout, before you go about the rest of your daily activities?

Start The Day Off Right

In a recent post, we discussed the fact that a balanced breakfast can help to set a healthy tone for the rest of your day. Morning exercise seems to have a similar effect, for several reasons.

First, numerous studies have shown that exercise can improve your sense of well-being and overall mood. For longtime exercisers, this won’t come as a surprise but it has important implications. If you exercise first thing in the morning, elevating your mood, you are more likely to eat healthier foods and enjoy your day more.

Additionally, once you experience these benefits, you’ll want to continue exercising so that you can keep enjoying them. Speaking to U.S. News, Julia Valentour, program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, said that “People who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit, as there’s less chance of scheduling conflicts that get in the way of exercise.”

Razor Focus!

Closely related to the improved sense of well-being is a heightened alertness throughout the day. Although you have to drag yourself out of bed and struggle to start your workout, once you do you’ll wake up quickly. Not only will you be able to give your workout your full attention but, by the time you get to work, you’ll already feel awake and accomplished.

A key factor to consider when discussing how to set a good tone for your day is the effect that exercise has on your metabolism. Recent research has shown that not only do our bodies burn calories during exercise, but that increased caloric burn continues for hours after. One study found that men who biked at a high intensity for 45 minutes burned an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout. Other studies have backed these findings but, they all note, that low or moderate intensity workouts don’t show the same substantial results.

Sleep Better

It may seem counter-intuitive, but waking up early to work out may help you sleep better. A quality night’s sleep is dependent, to a large extent, on regularity. We need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Scheduling your workout in the mornings can be a valuable step toward creating a regular sleep pattern.

Research also indicates that people who exercise at night or in the evenings have more difficulty falling asleep than those who work out earlier in the day. Not only will the improved sleep help you be more focussed and energetic, but sleep plays an important part in weight loss. Several hormones that control your appetite and metabolism are regulated by your sleep patterns so creating a healthy sleep schedule can have a positive effect on those systems as well.

Avoid Conflicts

How often does your day go exactly as you had planned? Things pop up unexpectedly that force use to make last minute changes. We may have to work late, deal with some emergency or handle an errand we forgot about, and any of these things can suck up the time you’d planned for your workout. By taking care of your exercise as soon as you wake up, you lessen the chance of something else getting in the way.

What benefits have you experienced from working out in the morning? Please share them with us in the comments.

Sources

http://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Abstract/2005/03000/Exercise_and_well_being__a_review_of_mental_and.13.aspx

http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2010/08/10/how-morning-exercise-can-boost-your-career

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/mielke25.htm

http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/exercise/story/2011-09-01/Bonus-for-exercisers-Calories-burn-long-after-workout/50224116/1

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/lose-weight-with-morning-exercise

Running Through Your Performance Highs and Lows

Ask Coach Jenny

 Q: How come some days I feel like I can run forever and then other days I feel like I can barely make a few miles? ~Andrea

 A: That’s a great question, Andrea. There are many reasons that contribute to the highs and lows, and one of the most significant is how you go about running day to day, especially if you’re training for an event.

It is easy to get caught up in running by a certain pace (ex. 9:30 per mile) now that we have all these wonderful speed-distance devices that tell you the pace as you run. Remember the days when we would have to drive the distance to see how far we ran? I do…

There is something that gets lost when we train by pace – we tune out what is going on in our bodies. When we do that, we risk over- or under-performing on any given day. Pace should be the outcome of your run, rather than the target and here’s why.

Let’s say you go for your planned run today for four miles and it is 90 degrees outside. Your plan calls for an easy-effort run but your mind is set on running at a 9:30 per mile pace, which is normally an easy effort. You end up running in a hard zone due to the heat. Your next run is a tempo workout where you run at a specific pace that is comfortably hard (8:30 per mile) but you’re fatigued due to the hot run, so that tempo pace now feels extremely hard (red zone). In time, your body fatigues and that can result in a host of challenging runs or contribute to “dead legs,” where your legs simply don’t have any strength.

Training by pace and pace alone defeats the purpose of the run. When you train by effort and how your body feels (heart rate and your breathing rate), you’re always training in the right zone on the given day. On that 90-degree day, you can still run easy by slowing your pace and running at an effort where you can still talk. This may even require run-walking intervals to keep your body cool. On the flipside, when it cools down and you have a strong day because you haven’t trained too hard – you will run stronger than that calculated pace. It all starts with tuning into your body, listening to your breath and flowing with what the day brings. When you run in the flow, your body adapts more efficiently and fatigues less.

Take this timeless challenge and let me know how it works out for you. Invest three weeks in running by your body and breath. Run hard on your hard days and easy on your easy days – but do so in the rhythm of your body rather than your watch or speed-distance monitor. It will change your life forever…

Other variables that can negatively affect your performance include:

 Sleep

The quality of sleep greatly affects your running performance. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter and then went for a run the next day? It’s hard and results in higher heart rates, lower energy levels and an overall tough run. Invest in quality sleep for at least 7-8 hours each night.

Your Cycle

This doesn’t quite apply to the men. However, as women, our menstrual cycle has a rhythm all of its own with highs and lows. The highs you may recognize as the days when you feel like Wonder Woman and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. This typically happens between days 7 and 15 around ovulation. The lows happen 7 days before menstruation and the first few days of your cycle. The great news is our bodies have a built in flow – where you can run harder around your strongest days, and ease back on the throttle and take an easy-effort week during the challenging days around the cycle. Doing so keeps in alignment with the natural flow of your body. By the way, there have been world records set during menstruation, so it doesn’t translate to poor performance.

Nutrition

You are what you eat. If you eat low quantities of fuel on a low-calorie diet or miss meals, it will instantly translate to tough runs. In the same light, eating highly processed, low-quality fuels can also have the same effect – icky runs. Keep a fuel log and begin to take inventory of what you eat. Making small changes to good, clean fuel sources will increase the likelihood of better runs more often. Stick with foods that have a short ingredient list of things you can actually pronounce – vegetables, fruits, protein sources and healthy fats.

Stress

This is a silent energy killer. It sneaks into your life and subtly zaps the energy right out from underneath you. Whether it is due to work, deadlines, family, loss or relationships, stress sucks the life out of your runs. Invest in yoga, meditation or even breathing deeply for one minute during the day. Being mindful of the stress and making efforts to decrease and manage it will greatly improve the quality of your life performance on and off the roads.

As with any old habits, remember that they die hard, so start improving your runs with small changes that you can stick with over time. It may take quite a bit of practice to break the desire to train by pace, but it will pay off exponentially in the long run – literally and figuratively.