As the weather turns colder, many athletes run for the sanctuary of the gym. We trade our favorite routes for the climate-controlled arena of treadmills and bike trainers.
But what about the cold?
We've been lucky to have temperatures in the forties this season but it can feel a bit colder. Some people get worried they will get sick from training outside this time of year. While colds and general illnesses tend to spike around this season, training outside is not likely to be the culprit of illness.
You get sick from coming in contact with a virus or bacteria or some other pathogen. You cannot get a cold (or the flu) from being cold. You have to come in contact with the disease that causes the illness. That means contact with objects or other people...indoors or out. This is why washing your hands is so important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that simply washing your hands is the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease. Period. Don't want to get sick? Wash your hands!
If you're sick, back off your training.
This is simple. If you're already sick (its not your fault, it happens no matter how hard we try to stay healthy) you need to back off. If you have a fever, sore throat or congestion in your chest you shouldn't be training and certainly shouldn't be in a gym. These symptoms indicate that you're already sick and your immune system needs all the calories, rest, and sugar-free hydration it can get to fight off whatever it is. Sick? back off. Training can wait. Your health is most important. Attempting to push through whatever illness your fighting will likely prolong the situation and result in a lackluster training session on the road or in the gym.
Your immune system is not immune.
In addition to having contact with a disease, you're immune system has to be weakened or susceptible to that disease in order for you to get sick. Now this is where things can get tricky. Vigorous exercise can, in the short term, weaken your immune system. Marathon and half-marathon runners and triathletes can sometimes get sick during or after a strenuous part of their training cycle or after a race. Thats because, even if they've been washing their hands, they've come into contact with a disease and their immune system hasn't recovered from the stress of training or long race. Student-athletes can face a similar situation. Good coaching practices that keep workouts reasonable, yet productive, will help avoid some of the training stress that can wear down your immune system. Thats part of the coaches job. You have a bigger job...
The athlete can do much more than the coach or personal trainer when it comes to keeping fit and healthy. Getting enough sleep, proper nutrition, and sugar-free hydration (along with hand washing) are all controllable by the athlete and will contribute to a stronger immune system and better state of health while training. You'll be able to train hard and remain healthy.
Training in the colder weather has its health advantages.
You'll notice your nose running when your training in the cold. This is, in part, due to the impact of the cool air on your sinuses - the cool air reduces swelling and promotes drainage. Thats a good thing...looks awful, but it is good. As we rid the accumulated mucous from our sinuses we also flush away many of the germs, bacteria, viruses, that are hanging out in there. Keeping well hydrated with sugar-free drinks helps keep this mucous and secretions thin and able to drain well, preventing congestion and the "stuffy/runny nose" many people seem to get this time of year.