Commuting 101: Don't get sick!

This time of year in the northern hemisphere, things are really starting to cool off. As we head into the heart of winter, here are some tips to keep you healthy and in the saddle.

Myth: Cold weather makes you sick. Fact: Cold weather can stress your immune system, but germs are what make you sick.

Cold weather may also increase the effects of exercise-induced asthma. Asthma can feel a lot like bronchitis and, further weaken your immune system. If your lungs feel raw after a particularly brisk ride, it’s probably asthma, not a chest cold.

People spend more time indoors in the winter. As such, there are a higher concentration of germs indoors and infections spread more readily because of this. Just because you’re exposed doesn’t mean you’ll get sick. Keep your immune system strong and you’ll breeze through the winter even if your peers are coughing and sneezing. It’s never a bad idea to keep your distance from the ill, however.

Not getting enough sleep, high levels of stress, lethargy, bad nutrition, and poor health habits can also wreak havoc on your immune system. Wash your hands frequently, get plenty of sleep and water, feed yourself with healthy foods, and try to keep your face covered so you can re-breathe some warm air when exercising outdoors. All of these things will help you stay healthy.

Year round bicycle commuters enjoy the benefits of being able to get a little exercise on the way to and from work, but don’t push it too hard. Over-training can weaken your immune system and cause more harm than good. Consider ways to shorten your bicycle commute if you feel like you’ve hit the point of diminishing health returns.

What if you get sick? Don’t try to be a hero and ride to work with a chest cold. There’s no shame in taking a break from bike commuting if you feel bad. Don’t make it worse by shocking your already over-worked immune system with cold weather and physical labor. My general rule is “if I’m too sick to ride, I’m too sick to work” but I have a few paid sick days per year. I’d rather take a day off to stay in bed because I feel a little ill than come to work, make it worse, and infect all of my co-workers. If you think you really need to show up to work while you’re too sick to ride, you might want to find another way in.

Some experts also recommend:

  • Adding a daily Zinc and Vitamin C supplement
  • Anti-oxidants, such as those found in green tea, or moderate amounts of wine.
  • Reduce stress. Try to enjoy life.
  • Get the endorphins pumping. Very spicy foods, sex and laughter are good for this.
  • Taking Echinacea at the first sign of cold/flu symptoms (while symptoms persist)
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