Health and Fitness: Getting back into exercise after illness

HYDRATION: Your body will lose fluids through some illness. When you return to exercise, take it easy and ensure you are consuming adequate fluids. Picture: Fairfax Media
HYDRATION: Your body will lose fluids through some illness. When you return to exercise, take it easy and ensure you are consuming adequate fluids. Picture: Fairfax Media

Have you ever been told going for a run will “help clear the sinuses” if you have a head cold?

I have always felt there is a fine line between “sweating it out” with some light exercise when you have a common cold and tucking yourself up on the lounge to rest.

At this time of year, there is plenty of illness around and listening to your body where exercise is concerned is paramount.

Obviously if your illness is serious you need to consult a medical professional. 

A recent bout of tonsillitis stopped me dead in my tracks and, while I was pretty keen to make up for lost time once I was over it, my body was not ready.

If you are training with a specific goal in mind then you might feel like you have to get gung-ho back into your program once you’ve recovered, but a steady, steady approach may prove more beneficial in the long run.

I was told years ago by a trainer not to try to make up for a missed session, and it’s something that stuck with me.

After my recent illness I felt like my fitness had been put back months and sought out the advice of an expert in Robin Callister, professor of exercise sciences from the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

She said there were definitely a few things to consider before hitting the pavement again.

“One is, what kind of illness people are recovering from,” Professor Callister said. “The two most common things would be common cold and gastrointestinal upset. 

“If it's a common cold then it's mostly a matter of having sufficiently recovered that you no longer have any residual fatigue or that you're not going to exercise in conditions that are likely to exacerbate the situation.

"With the gastrointestinal upset, it's a matter of regaining sufficient hydration and energy stores, which you often lose when you're ill, so it's getting those built up again.”

STEADY: Don't try to make up for lost time when you return to training after time off through illness. Picture: Fairfax Media

STEADY: Don't try to make up for lost time when you return to training after time off through illness. Picture: Fairfax Media

The length of time that you have been laid up for will have an impact.

"If you've had a few days off then you may have lost a bit of conditioning,” she said.

“If you're off for even a week, particularly if a lot of that time is bed rest, then it's quite surprising how quickly you can lose conditioning.

"If you were off for two weeks where you were incapacitated for part of that time and you were gradually getting back into it again, two weeks is definitely enough time to lose a bit of your conditioning.

“It's a matter of thinking, where am I at now opposed to where was I at, and then putting in one or two weeks of getting back up to where you were.”

Reassessing and readjusting your program is a good idea.

"On the first day back don't be as ambitious, maybe cut back to half of what you were doing and see how you cope with that,” professor Callister said.

“If that was even a struggle then you need to cut back a bit more. If you were fine with that then in your next set you could ramp it up a bit.”

Upcoming Fitness Events

Lake Macquarie Running Festival, Warners Bay, August 26: Held on the shores of Lake Macquarie, it has a half marathon, 10.5km fun run and 4km kids’ scamper.

Variety Spin 4 Kids, Harbour Square, September 7: A six-hour cycling charity event to help disadvantaged children of the Hunter. It is on stationary bikes and teams comprise up to 10 riders, or you can do it solo.

The Bloody Long Walk, Newcastle, October 7: A 35km challenge from Belmont to Newcastle Beach, taking in Fernleigh Track, Throsby Creek and Memorial Walk. It is raising funds and awareness for Mitochondrial disease.

Winter Warmers Week #7

This week it’s about the office lunchtime workout. It could be a run-walk club among your colleagues or set up a circuit indoors or out.

Equipment: skipping rope, set of weights, markers.

Part 1, cardio circuit (45 seconds work: 15sec rest): Skipping, 5 metre running shuttles between markers with 10 high knees at each cone, jump squats, bear crawls between markers, shoulder throws with hand weights. Repeat.

Part 2, strength (45sec: 15sec): Squats with alternating shoulder press, push-ups, lunges with biceps curls, dead lift with row, ab rotation with weights. Repeat.

Add a warm-up and cool-down with stretch.

Renee Valentine is a writer, qualified personal trainer and mother of three. r.valentine@fairfaxmedia.com.au.