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Commuting 101: Don’t get sick!

by Noah

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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14 Responses to “Commuting 101: Don’t get sick!”

  1. Marrock says:

    Yeah… the heart of winter… it hit 6° today and it’s supposed to stay in the 50s for the rest of the week.

    When the temp does go crashing and winter really hits, all the echinacea in the world wont keep most folks from getting sick.

  2. Adam says:

    This is all good advice, but I recall hearing that the bit about spending time indoors is probably a myth. We all spend plenty of time in close proximity to other people year-round. The seasonal nature of the flu has more to do with properties of the virus itself. Just fyi.

  3. Noah says:

    Yah, I rode home in 60 degree weather this afternoon, but I went straight through the coldest part of last winter, and single digit temps already this year without anything more than a little cold weather asthma that cleared up after a few hours. Cold simply doesn’t have to make you sick.

  4. Jeff Moser says:

    I’ve found that when riding in low temperatures below freezing, keeping a slower pace and breathing through my nose seems to keep my throat and lungs feeling good.

    Exercise, eating healthy, and taking supplements keeps my immune system running at full power. I seldom get knocked down longer than one day per year.

  5. Mike says:

    You forgot the most important thing to do to stay healthy – wash your hands frequently!

  6. Ghost Rider says:

    Bravo, Mike! As a former state health official, I wholeheartedly agree with frequent hand washing as the best preventative you can do to keep yourself illness-free.

    If you have children, it’s one of the best things to teach them as they get to be school-age, too — keeps the school-borne illness critters away from the rest of the family.

  7. Quinn says:

    I realized over this Big storm that we had in the Sierra the 2 days after I did not Need to wear my mask to stay un-conjested.

    I thought about it and realized the Dry air out here was evaporating All the moisture and leaving all the junk in my lungs to cause pneumonia that I got.

    So even if your in a humid part of the country, Stay Hydrated!

  8. Siouxgeonz says:

    When I moved out here, I was around cats that I”m a bit allergic to. Therefore, whenever I got near a cat, I washed my hands.
    I didn’t get even a cold for two straight years… by which time I’d been desensitized to the felines and had lapsed from the hand-washing habit.
    When teaching in Virginia, the school had a “wash your hands and don’t spit” campaign and that month there were fewer absences for illness than the previous year. Sample size was a fatal flaw but the message got out there and the sidewalks were much more pleasant.
    On the other hand, the last week of this year I got a bit of a head thing (yea, I had lapsed in the hand-washing again), but I also wanted to hit that mileage goal. Talk about snot rockets! The highway department had a crawler on the telly that night about a “mucus advisory” and drivers had to watch for slick spots ;) … but the cold was *gone* in three days and never crawled down to my lungs. I could feel that cold air just wimpifying them viroids, and the heightened circulation sending that immune system set of defenses charging at ‘em. Or maybe that was the endorphins speaking :D

  9. RainCityCyclist says:

    Chilly and wet here in Seattle the last 2-3 months. I have one lingering cold that I’m hoping to get rid of soon…..thanks to my 4 year old and her infectious pre-school, no doubt! :-)

    I couldn’t breathe well on Monday but said “f-ck it, I’m riding anyhow”. I think 8 times out of 10 this is a bad idea, yet I am too stubborn at times to listen to reason. I decided to ‘power through’ and get a good workout in. In this instance, it worked and I felt much better just by making myself work harder, breather harder, etc. I’m sure there is no rational reason to this, but I’ve done this a few times now (running or biking) and had positive results at times. Crazy….

  10. Bay Area Commuter says:

    “It’s Not The Cold, It’s The Rain And Fog And Icky-Yucky-Eewwwy Wet Season!”

    “Here In The Bay”, there’s two seasons:

    1. Glorious!

    2. Occasionally Damp-ish

    (Your Weather May Vary. Objects On The Hills May be Closer Than They Appear. Seasonal Prediction Not Valid In “The City”, itself. Do Not Relate To This In The Snowwwwy Climes of Ice Bowl Central or MinneSNOOOOWta.)

    In the “dampish” season (from november-ish to [maybe as late as ] february-ish), the air’s damp and humid, perfect for incubating pneumonia.

    Get the flu and pneumococcal vaccines!

  11. Likhi says:

    Staying hydrated really helps keep illness away, or at least reduce congestion and other phlegm-related symptoms. Whenever I have a sore throat coming on or otherwise feel an oncoming cold, I double my water intake during the day, usually resulting in healthiness.

    As an asthmatic, I’ve noticed the extra hydration helps assuage bronchi inflammation (or something to that effect) and reduces the extra wheezing associated with colds. The less albuterol I’m forced to use, the better.

  12. Mckain says:

    nice tips, thank you! =)

    in Guatemala is rain temporary these tips really are really working XD

  13. “Get the endorphins pumping. Very spicy foods, sex and laughter are good for this.” — What, all at once?

    Great report. A lot of myths dispelled.

  14. Dj Arif says:

    Advice to would-be bicycle commuters:

    “Take the plunge and do it. You have to not worry about how you look, and wear whatever clothing you need to stay warm and protected and safe.”

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