Should You Cycle When Sick?

I’m not sure if it’s been just plain good luck, or if being extremely conscious of taking in good whole foods is the reason…but I’ve been running on healthy and haven’t had a cold for longer than I can remember.  In fact, it has been at least a couple years or more since I had to take a day off of riding due to illness.  But those nasty bugs hit me earlier this week and were credited for me taking time off the bike.

It wasn’t an extremely bad cold, but enough for me to want to take Monday off from riding.  The next day, I felt better but still wasn’t sure if I should ride.  I have to admit that it takes an awful lot for me to convince myself that I shouldn’t ride, so I got on and took a slightly easier ride that day.  I could definitely feel the cold taking a beating on my energy, but it went pretty good.

But did I do the right thing by getting out on the bike?  Did it prolong the illness?  There is a famous line when it comes to cycling while sick and it goes:

If the illness is above the neck, keep riding.  If below, rest.

Mine was pretty much all in my head so according to this rule of thumb, I was doing okay. However, later on Tuesday night I could really feel the fatigue in my body and I was wondering how I was going to feel in the morning.  I went to bed saying positive affirmations and believing that I would be feeling great.  I woke up Wednesday morning not feeling miraculously cured, but I didn’t feel too bad at all.  I went out for another ride that day and Thursday, and took it pretty easy again.

I’ve always wondering if I would cure myself faster by just totally resting and letting it pass, or keeping active and toning things down a notch.  I still don’t know the answer, but I made out pretty well taking the approach that I took.  If I can offer any advice on what you should do about your riding when feeling a little under the weather, it is this…..follow the golden rule found above, and keep the following in mind:

  1. Listen to your body, don’t push it more than it feels okay with
  2. Keep extra, extra hydrated
  3. Don’t be too macho to turn back if you aren’t feeling good
  4. Take extra vitamin C
  5. Be prepared for a very runny nose while you’re out there

  • http://www.veloweb.ca Raymond Parker

    I’ve followed the “above the neck” rule for many years, but I think in the end it’s a bit of a crap shoot, because one never knows when a head cold might turn into something worse.

    I also once ignored what started out as sniffle on a rock climbing trip and it turned into pneumonia.

    Agree that it’s important to monitor bodily messages and take it easy. Don’t push it if your head also says it wants you to stay home and sip hot lemon and honey.

  • http://www.cyclingforbeginners.com Cycling For Beginners

    I often still cycle or otherwise exercise if I’m feeling bad. Usually I give myself permission to “wuss out” a bit and avoid some bigger hills or lift some lighter weights. Even though it usually feels like heck to exercise while sick, I do believe that it usually helps me to get well faster. Of course, sometimes I feel too bad and I let myself take a skip day.

    Best,
    Rob

    • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

      Well, one week later I’m not sure if riding all week helped or hurt me get over my cold faster. I feel great, but my nose is still plugged up. I know that next time I’ll do the same thing all over again. Thanks for your comments, Rob.

  • http://onespeedgo.blogspot.com John Romeo Alpha

    Unless you are too sick to get out of bed, which answers the question itself, it’s probably better to get some moderate exercise than not. I’ve been looking for research or medical advise to the contrary for some time, and haven’t found any. If exercising makes your coughing worse that’s probably a reason to take it easy. But other than that, it’s probably helpful to get outside and increase your heart rate and breathing a bit. We’re beyond the times when people thought that getting cold caused a cold. If you get surgery these days, the nurses will be all but pushing you to get out of bed and walk around, to get the air moving and the digestion working.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

      Very good points, John. I’m with you.

  • http://welldressedcyclist.blogspot.com/ AmieReilly

    Hi Darryl,

    My old client who is a doctor said light to moderate HR exercise for about an hour will help you get better faster. I always try to get a little exercise when I’m sick since she said that. I love the “above the neck” rule and will definitely keep it in mind.

    Cheers,
    Sara

    • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

      I’m glad you like the “above the neck” rule. I appreciate your comments, Sara. Thanks.

  • http://www.massivemtber.co.uk/ Clive Chapman

    We’ve all come back early from injury and illness in our chosen sports throughout our lives I don’t doubt. That’s youth and an enthusiasm for what you’re doing. But I know I feel every rugby injury I’ve ever had during a long pedal now. If only we’d listened to our elders and betters eh?

    I like the above the neck analogy by the way, I’ve never heard that one before. I’ll be blatantly nicking that one!

    Glad you’re feeling better mate.

  • http://www.springfieldcyclist.com Tracy W

    My wife and I attended a running seminar last spring and that same question was asked. The answer provided there was that moderate exercise helps break up mucus and junk in your lungs where it can be cleared. They were pretty clear, however, that you should go lightly when you’re feeling bad or you can make it worse.

    But…they were runners, not doctors.

    • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

      Yeah, I think it all really comes down to following some general rules…and then listening to your body to see what is best. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned.

      Darryl

  • http://bikingtolive.com Bryan

    Great article and glad to see you’re feeling better. I’m lucky in that I don’t get sick too often either but it does happen. I usually take time off the bike but maybe I should follow the rule above since most of mine are sinus type issues.