Home > Body Work

Runner’s Guide to Surviving Cold and Flu Season

That dreaded time of year is upon us–the weather has started to cool off and work/school have started to heat up;our immune systems get run down and voila, you find yourself hit with a bug.

There are few things more annoying that running with a nose that has decided it would rather be a faucet, or marking Ks with a cough rather than a Garmin’s cheerful ding. Many of us are reluctant to take a day off, even when feeling under the weather. Here are Canadian Running‘s top ten tips for staying healthy through cold and flu season.

Little girl drinking water1) Hydrate

For runners, this is important all year round, but particularly during cold and flu season. While exercising does boost immunity, long and hard workouts leave the body temporarily vulnerable while it recovers. To help your body recover quickly, make sure you are adequately hydrating. If you’ve caught a virus, this advice remains; keeping your body hydrated allows it to fight off illness more efficiently.

2) Know your limits

If you’re feeling sick, but don’t want to ruin your run streak, consider shortening your route. According to a CNN report, running may act as a natural decongestant and those who are accustomed to running are not usually negatively affected from doing so when sick. However, if you’re not feeling well and had planned for a 90 minute run, you need to rethink your plan. The Journal of Applied Science found runners to be immunosuppressed for up to 24 hours after 1.5 hours of continuous running. Exposing an already weakened system to this sort of thing is not wise.

1195574353) Respect others (and hope they’re reading this too!)

Gyms are awesome, generally speaking–great people and lots of endorphins all round. Unfortunately, they are also a haven for germs. With everyone pushing the same buttons on machines, coughing or sneezing on mats etc, it is easy for a virus to get spread around. If you’re feeling sick, go for a jog rather than hit the gym if you must exercise–your fellow patrons will thank you.

4) Neck up = green light. Neck down = red light.


As a general rule, doctors advise that you consider your symptoms when decided whether or not to head out the door. A runny nose, congestion and sore throat–symptoms from the neck up, are generally okay to exercise moderately with. Symptoms from the neck down, like coughing, fever or muscle aches, mean that you should probably take the day off.

gingertea5) Try some tea

Tea was practically invented for cold and flu season. Ginger, peppermint and chamomile are some of the most touted immune-system-soothers. Plus, tea helps you keep up with your number one priority: hydration!

6) Go ‘oh natural’

While many of us reach for cold and flu medication as soon as we feel the sniffles coming on, there are lots of natural remedies out their worth a try (that don’t leave you feeling as drowsy!). My own personal favourite is oil of oregano; gargling a tiny dropper in a bit of warm water works wonders for prevention when I feel a cold coming on and feels great on a sore throat. Warning: it tastes gross, but is worth it. Other classics include honey in your tea to ease a sore throat, or making yourself a ‘steam’ with some eucalyptus oil.

7) Stay warm

Contrary to popular belief, being out in the cold is not what makes people get sick. But, if you are feeling a cold coming on, running outside in bitter temperatures is not the wisest decision. Most runners are familiar with the feeling in your throat after a run in cold weather (it can sometimes taste like blood, gross, I know). This cold air can be aggravating if you have a sore throat coming on.

The dangers of undersleeping.8) Catch your zzzs

Your body does most of its healing while you are asleep. This is why consecutive nights of less than your usual amount of shut-eye often leads to illness. Professional athletes have been prioritizing sleep in recent years, especially during peak training seasons. If you feel a bug coming on–try heading to bed earlier than usual and you just might be able to fight it off!

9) Load up on Vitamin C

This doesn’t mean popping vitamin C tablets like they’re candy. Incorporate colourful fruits and veggies into your diet to boost your immunity. It can be as easy as adding a slice of lemon to your water bottle during the day. There have been lots of studies done regarding the effect of vitamin c on the common cold. Contrary to popular belief, the vitamin does not reduce the frequency to which one is affected by colds. However, it has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms.

10) Pamper yourself

We tend to ignore the fact that stress plays a role in 99 per cent of illness. When you body is fighting a virus, the least you can do is take care of it–have a bath, light some candles, do some of the stretching that you always mean to do (but never quite end up doing) and help your immune system out a bit.