Shape up once your sniffles subside with this post-sickness plan to get you moving again.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
February 23, 2016

A winter cold, flu, or virus can throw a serious wrench in your normally fit routine, leaving you bedridden and (eventually) craving a good sweat. (Next time, try these tips to fight cold and flu germs the right way.)

But how do you get back on the bandwagon after an illness passes? How big of a setback did you really take? And how much exercise is too much when you're first getting back at it? We touched base with Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery to find out.

Things might not be as bad as you think: If you're flat on your back for a week-assuming you stick to a regular gym routine when you're healthy-you'll lose about 30 percent of your fitness, especially your cardio output, says Olson. While this is a bummer, with two to three weeks of training-using the right bounce-back strategy-you should be close to your normal physical fitness again, she says.

So how can you tell if you're OK to hit the pavement? First and foremost, make sure you haven't had a fever for at least 48 hours, says Olson, who adds that you should also have a few good night's sleep under your belt, and no longer have any aches and pains.

"If you're running a fever, you should not work out," Olson notes. "The energy needed by your immune system to fight off bacterial infections will be compromised if you exercise." And this means you'll invite lingering symptoms to worsen-which could predispose you to more intense issues like mononucleosis or pneumonia, she says. (Not fun.)

So if you truly think you're in the clear, it's important to ease back into your regular routine. "When you've had an infection, the increased work of your immune system is taxing on the body," says Olson. Overwhelm an already over-worked bod and you'll wind up right back in the sack.

As for where to start, Olson suggests light cardio then resistance training. "It's important to make sure your oxygen delivery system is intact so that when you do resistance training, your muscles will get the oxygen," she says. But if you're a yogi (and your body is familiar with the practice), you should be OK returning to the studio with a light class, since the exercise is less demanding and often moves at a moderate cardio pace, she adds. (Try these 5 Yoga Moves to Beat the Flu!)

The bottom line: Don't naively assume you can go back to 100 percent right away. "Do about 70 percent of what you were doing," suggests Olson. Reducing your weights and cardio output by 30 percent for a few days will make up for the loss in fitness while you were sick. So build back slowly, even if you're tempted to push harder. Don't worry, eventually, two miles won't feel like 10 anymore.

Comments (5)

January 4, 2019
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June 2, 2018
I usually only get sick for a pretty short time. But this time I've been sick for 2 months! I need to train for an upcoming cross country competition and I'm not very fit since I've been sick for such a long time! Now I can barely do 4 kilometers! All my friends beat me now even though I used to always beat them! So how do I get back to my normal fitness after been sick for so long???????????????
April 21, 2018
Well,you should be very motivated to exercise, You are facing a major challenge to do so, comming back from a addiction, im sure some lung damage,and you are 16 years older,You will never quite be as strong or fast as before, I too returned to exersise 2 month's ago after a opiate addiction, cigs, and pot.,so do like do ,i will be the fittest 56 yr old man as possible,and i will work hard to do so,you need to decide if you really want to be as best as you can be at your current age, i can tell you i am surprised how much i have come back,its a great feeling.i really hope you can get your head straightened out and do this.I want you to have that great feeling again,healthy, strong, confidant,feeling good! IF YOU WANT IT GO AND BUST YOUR ASS AND GET IT! GOOD LUCK SIR,YOU CSN DO THIS.
December 20, 2017
ivi4k02 sorry to hear about your struggle. I'm 63 and workout regularly people say I look like I'm 40. I currently am going from Paleo Diet to Vegan. I believe in ways of cell longevity. Check videos with Nun Amen Ra and Rich Roll who was an overweight alcoholic now tri athlete used to be long distance swimmer in college. (Great Testimony) right up your alley In this video he sounds a bit like you when he started at 39 . Also Markus Rothkranz is big on nutrition. This to me is one of the most important, next to spirituality and then exercise. Hope this helps. God bless you and grant you success .
October 11, 2017
How do I get back to health after 16 years of alcoholism and drug abuse. On and off heavy smoker. Possibly had some ischemic heart attacks and one noticeable one. Also been addicted to a drug known to contribute to LVH. On and off different anti-depressants too. Been feeling all sorts of symptoms as a result so really have felt I'll for all those years. Used to be top fit with amazing lung capacity built up from playing football running track and cross country pretty much everyday. Top 3 finisher at national level everytime. All sports were my life. Badminton champion too, loved squash and climbing. Needless to say I cycled a lot too or walked major distances at pace to get anywhere. With 16 years out I'm full of trepidation about exercise. I've made some attempts at running but fell short when my heart near gave out. Up mountain run was not the best idea nor running through 80mph winds and heavy rain. Can't exercise without extreme challenge. So used to competitive exercise that it's putting me off because I can't ease myself back in. All a mental thing I know. That conditioning is my fear. I feel the urge to get back out running having stopped the other addictions. I can't even get the second wind. I'm overwhelmed. Please help.