Is it wise to exercise with a fever? No, everyone knows that. Yet we (athletes) don't always listen to our bodies. It's not easy to skip that one training session or match, so where do you draw the line? Below, sports doctor Edwin Achterberg explains why it's not smart to get on your bike with a flu or fever.
The designations flu and cold are often used interchangeably. Both are caused by contagious viruses. By talking, coughing or sneezing they spread, especially in rooms where people sit close together and/or with poor ventilation. Viruses also spread through hands and objects. For example, if you touch your mouth, nose or eyes after grabbing the doorknob, you can become infected.
Despite the similarities, there are also important differences between the flu and the common cold. The flu (influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. A flu can be mild and without symptoms. The first symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 days after infection. It begins with a fever (> 38.0°C), chills, headache, muscle aches, sore throat and cough. The fever usually lasts 3 to 5 days and you feel really sick. The main complications of flu are pneumonia and myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation). About 2,700 people die each year from the effects of flu. Mostly elderly people with reduced resistance, but also athletes are at increased risk. Athletes are especially at risk when there is a myocarditis. The symptoms of this are vague chest pain, irregular heartbeat, palpitations and shortness of breath. It is so dangerous because it can give rise to heart failure or arrhythmia, even resulting in sudden cardiac death.
"You must be fever free for at least one day before you can ride a bike again."
If you have a fever, you should therefore not ride a bike. You must be free of fever for at least one day before you can start cycling! A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract and is usually caused by the rhinovirus. There are a confusing number of names for the common cold: nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, or simply rhinitis. The common cold is the most common infectious disease. On average, adults get two to three colds a year and children six to 12. It is an infection that usually starts 1 to 4 days after infection with coughing, sore throat, stuffy nose or runny nose, but fever, muscle aches and headaches may also occur. Usually these symptoms are gone after 7 to 10 days, but they can also persist for 3 weeks. A cold is often at its most severe 2 to 3 days after the symptoms appear. This is also the time when you can infect others. Fortunately, a cold rarely leads to serious complications, but be aware that a cold is sometimes caused by an influenza virus. We've just seen that can lead to a dangerous situation. So be aware of that.
So it can be very dangerous to ride or work out with a fever, but what about if you have a mild viral infection? Is it okay to exercise then? Scientific research shows that gentle endurance training actually reduces the risk and severity of a viral infection while intense exercise increases it. Therefore, if you have a mild viral infection you are allowed to do an easy endurance training, but not if you have a fever.
This article was produced in collaboration with Fiets.nl.