Since adopting my program of measures to ditch the asthma, there’s only one thing that can still have me reach for the inhaler and that’s the acute period of the chest cold. The need for the inhaler isn’t inevitable nor are the severity of the symptoms, but the chest cold itself, yup that’s inevitable and it’s inescapable at times. But I choose not to stop cycling because of it. Hello, Dear Reader and welcome to this exploration of the advisability of cycling with a chest infection. Is it risky? Foolhardy because of the chances of it developing into something worse? Let’s take a look…
Infections progress through a number of stages
- Incubation stage occurs between being exposed to the pathogen and when the first signs appear.
- Prodromal stage occurs between the end of incubation and point at which specific illness symptoms appear. Here we’ll feel as if we’re getting sick. We’ll have those nonspecific symptoms – generally unwell, fatigue or malaise for example.
- Acute stage occurs when the pathogenic population reaches its maximum. Symptoms are organ/disease specific and the body’s immune response can produce symptoms, fever and expulsion of pathogens etc. We’re most infectious here too.
- Convalescence stage occurs as a period of decline in the number of microbes. It’s our recovery stage.
When can we cycle within this progression? I’d say at any stage! But the caveats are set out below. Briefly, I’d advocate for listening carefully to your body. If you can’t manage a ride, don’t do it! My suggested riding is specifically for that mental – or literal – breath of fresh air. It’s a break from the disease. It isn’t supposed to be a training ride!
So particularly if you have a fever – which can be your body’s immune response maxing out, be super careful when riding, see below. Likewise, if you have gastric or enteric symptoms, likewise, be prepared. Riding with those symptoms can give rise to unpredictable cycling, specially if you’re riding in traffic and stuff. It’s common sense right? 🙂
A metaphorical – and literal – breath of fresh air
As I say, the main reason that I’d ride with chest infections is because cycling is one of the few things that makes me feel better when I got the lurgy on me! And when I feel better I’m not office-bound or housebound and concentrating on the symptoms of the infection. But I take things slowly. Like really, really, really slowly. Otherwise the beneficial and therapeutic effects of the bike ride would worsen the physical symptoms and make the whole experience awful.
I’ve already written on my experiences with asthma. It seems when I get an upper respiratory tract infection, it almost always heads south and becomes a lower respiratory infection. It’s not so much that I don’t let it stop me from cycling. I’m adaptable rather than obsessive about cycling routines. But the fact is that cycling really helps me cope with, not so much the severity of symptoms as much as it causes me to simply feel better. I believe when we feel better psychologically, we instruct our bodies to heal expeditiously using all available resources, rather than permitting infections to linger, which I do also believe can happen. Have you ever noticed that yourself?
All available resources…
But yes, if we’re instructing our immune response to devote all available resources to doing their work, it’d be counterproductive to attempt cycling at high efforts. To do so would be to countermand the all available resource instruction, utilizing our finite sugar / glycogen stores at any given moment for powering the muscles rather than the immune response wouldn’t it? Consequently, for riding with a chest cold to have a successful outcome, it must be a ride that spares those finite resources. Again, we all know subjectively that cycling makes us feel better. So the chest-cold ride uses that fact regardless of our lower physical limits at the time. It’s not a ride for exercise, let alone for training. It’s for one thing only, it’s about feeling in a better state of mind as it were. And cycling is more than good for that task. How so?
While I think it’s unnecessary to get sciencey here, there have been many interesting ideas, theories and articles written over the last years about embodied cognition – essentially it concludes that the body is not passive in our comprehending and understanding but rather it’s an active constituent therein.
Cognition is embodied when it is deeply dependent upon features of the physical body of an agent, that is, when aspects of the agent’s body beyond the brain play a significant causal or physically constitutive role in cognitive processing ~ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2018. Embodied Cognition. [ONLINE] Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/embodied-cognition/
These ideas do nothing but enhance the notion that cycling itself is actually a part of our thinking. We don’t think while we’re riding but the riding itself is a high-value contributor to our entire cognition. I mean it’s not simply that our bodies inform thinking that occurs presumably entirely in the brain. We’re already well aware that the enteric nervous system or gut is referred to as the second brain, having more neurons than the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. It’s more that “the thinking mind” is partly constituted by what the body’s actually doing in its active state. Cool, right? I think that’s a wonderful idea, specially in regard to cycling, and specifically here, using this kind of easy cycling to ameliorate the psychological chest cold misery, but also with regard to curing depression through cycling and mindfulness while cycling.
Interestingly I believe embodied cognition can have many benefits to the actual science and sport of cycling. Because it’s out of the context of this article, I’d hope to write more later, but for now, here’s some further information on that specific topic if you’re interested. But notwithstanding, I think as cyclists with some inkling about how our bodies affect our cognition, we’re possibly ahead of the game in that regard. However, all that’s a bit of a digression. Food for thought as ever 🙂
Back to the glories of chest colds, and the question: So what’s the ride then?
The Chest-Cold Ride (CCR) Wait, did I just create an abbreviation without a special abbreviation license (SAL)… Wait… did I just 😛
Yup, I have a specific ride, I’ve always called it the chest-cold ride, the CCR! I do whenever I get to that stage in a chest cold where I feel most infectious! When the nose has been running raw or the throat feels like I’m trying to swallow a golfball, or my muscles are just complaining that they’re just too achey and fragile. But it’s not about how-high-how-fast, it’s about riding to feel better and that’s it, nothing else. It’s a lift out of the misery of a chest cold. So what, if anything, is different from a normal ride?
- My ride is data-less. It’s not about stats. It just can’t be without being detrimental. It’s a ride guided by interoception or internal feedback, consciously becoming aware of that embodied cognition. I go completely by feel. And while I think that sounds facile, actually I believe as cyclists we can become used to pushing past previous limits. We can become accustomed to feeling a physical limit, then squeezing another 2% past that, right? I mean we don’t always let our bodies lead the way. For the CCR I pay attention to the ol’ legs sending the message through the chest to say, hey, dude! slow down! The CCR isn’t for pushing anything. Quite the opposite! Were we to push it on a chest cold ride, the symptoms become exacerbated, specially if you’re anything like me with a history of chest issues. The CCR is a ride within the parameters that our own immune systems have laid out. This fast, no faster. Where “this fast” is very slow!
I ride with a vacant computer bracket. Yes, to save weight, I leave the computer at home. Just kidding. I leave it off the bike not just because the ride is data-less, but the data itself would be skewed anyway as certainly our heart rates can often be elevated when the immune system is handling invaders and our power output won’t be as expected.
- My ride is short. Because again, it’s not about the data. A mere breath of fresh air is itself predicated on a short ride. How short? Well, since the aim is to get that break from feeling as ill, it’s only as long as it needs to be to reach that nicer mental state. I usually aim for 20-30 minutes. If I feel like staying out for a bit longer I do. But it’s not about putting in miles.
- It’s a flat route. More difficult for those of us who live on a hill, pffft, but the idea is to not put any undue stress on an already challenged respiratory system. A flat route therefore, or keep the hills to only what’s necessary to make a route out and back.
- An easy spin. Not looking to for cadence training here either, since we’re data-less, spin at a comfortable rate for you. It doesn’t have to be 110+ Just whatever puts you in that good place.
- A slow ride. Like very slow. I try to not imagine I can push more than it feels like I’m doing. I ride deliberately slowly. That’s not always an easy task! But again, this ride can’t be about the data.
- It’s often a solitary ride! Unless you have a sympathetic ride bud, anyone not suffering a chest cold at the time will find it even more difficult than you to stay low and slow! I’d suggest go it alone for the CCR!
- Dress like an invalid 😀 Okay I don’t mean that, quite the opposite. Far from being invalid, we’re fighting fit and cycling our way out of this chest cold damnit! What I mean is stick an extra base layer top on. While we don’t want to overheat, if we’re taking the ride easy, an extra layer, I find, helps me to feel more comfortable, or maybe it’s coddled (!) when riding with a chest cold. That could be subjective. I know cooler core temp might suppress the immune response sure, but I think for me it’s more about just feeling better, like an extra compression layer feels like being looked after lol. Or maybe that’s just me 😀
The right frame of mind. The sole purpose of the chest-cold ride is to feel in a better place mentally. This will have consequential effects for our physical wellbeing and speed of recovery. And how am I supposed to find that state of mind? It’s simple, ride with that sole intention. Before you go, acknowledge the purpose of the ride is to just get a break from symptoms, a breath of fresh air. During the ride, be mindful of your body. Don’t push, but feel the mild boost in circulation help the immune antibodies do their thing. And after the ride, congratulate yourself for not suffering, and you managed to get a ride in, albeit a CCR! Good for you. You’ll be rid of this in no time at all!
How about you? Do you stay inside when you have a chest cold? Do you go riding? What’s your approach? Whatever it is, take care of yourself, ride safe and have fun, David.