Once the symptoms of a cold or the flu are gone, it can still take some time to regain strength and fully recover from these energy-sapping ailments. Experts recommend getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, slowly returning to your old routines and focusing on nourishing, healthy food and drinks.
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All About Colds and the Flu
As Harvard Health Publishing says, the flu is a contagious respiratory virus caused by one of three different types: influenza A, B or C. Flu symptoms — which can include fever, body aches, chills, a sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue — typically last for five to seven days. If you have influenza, the Mayo Clinic recommends bed rest and plenty of fluids to help yourself heal and suggests that you stay home until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours.
The common cold, which is caused by different viruses, has symptoms that can include coughing, sneezing, fever, a runny nose, sore throat, congestion and headache, the Cleveland Clinic says. These symptoms may last for seven to 10 days. Sometimes using over-the-counter medications can help, Cleveland Clinic says (but they may not be appropriate for children, so check with your pediatrician first).
Don't be alarmed if you feel completely drained after recovering from the flu or a cold. Take the time to rest if you are tired. "Getting enough sleep is like giving your body a big break to regenerate and helps your immune system recover," says Luiza Petre, MD, a cardiologist and weight management and nutrition expert in New York City. "The goal is to have at least seven to eight hours per night, and nap whenever your body is asking for it."
Dr. Petre also recommends monitoring your diet when you're overcoming a sickness. "Your body needs extra vitamins and minerals during this time," she says. "Eat a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables ... and increase your intake of water, anti-inflammatory foods and whole foods that are easy to digest."
Exercising After Illness
You might be eager to get back into your usual workout routine, but experts warn against pushing yourself. "Chances are that you've spent a lot of time in bed the last few days," Dr. Petre says. "Your muscles and joints have probably become stiff and achy, and returning to your regular routine could be uncomfortable or even cause an injury. Start with some long, slow stretches to warm up your muscles again, such as yoga."
Make sure you feel up to exercising, and monitor how your body feels. Don't be afraid to take breaks if you need them.
"Take it easy on the first day back," recommends Robert Williams, MD, a Colorado-based family medicine doctor and geriatrician. "Start at about 10 percent of the energy you would normally use," he suggests. "If you start to get dizzy, wheeze or feel nauseated, make sure to dial back the intensity. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after the workout."
Still Weak After Being Sick
While it's normal to feel weak and tired while you are recovering, persistent weakness and exhaustion may be a sign that you are in fact still sick. If you're worried about your energy levels or sleep habits after being ill, seek your doctor's advice on the best course of treatment.
"As always, consult your doctor, dietitian or nutritionist for expert advice," Dr. Petre says. "When recovering from an illness, it's best to ease your way back in by taking baby steps when returning to work, life and fitness routines. You'll bounce back in no time."
Read more: 5 Uncommon Ways to Fend Off Cold and Flu
- Robert Williams, MD, family medicine doctor and geriatrician, Colorado
- Luiza Petre, MD, cardiologist, weight management and nutrition expert, New York City
- Mayo Clinic: “Influenza (Flu)”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “How Long Does the Flu Last?”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Common Cold, Overview”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Common Cold: Management and Treatment”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.