5 Tips for Runners: Protect Yourself from the Cold & Flu

While it's widely known that running offers a long list of health benefits, many distance runners find themselves burdened with illness after marathons or long runs. In reality, those who exercise regularly experience significantly less upper respiratory illnesses as those who don't. Yet, when the exercise pushes beyond 90 minutes without interruption, the immune system can be weakened for as long as two weeks, due to hormonal activity that occurs when we push our bodies so hard.

  • The good news is that runners can all take extra precautions to avoid illness post-marathon or after any long-distance run.

  • When you run longer than 90 minutes, give yourself small breaks by walking or jogging slowly for one to three minutes every 10 to 15 minutes of the run.

  • Runners tend to follow a variety of diets, but simply consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after a run can reduce your stress hormone and inflammatory response, which also reduces your risk of post-run illness.

  • If you're training more than 60 miles a week, reduce your mileage during winter and take on a training program that can get you ready for your big run on fewer weekly miles.

  • Any time you go on a long run or finish a marathon, you need to get extra sleep afterwards: take an afternoon nap, go to bed early, sleep in the next day. Take time to get extra sleep to help raise the growth hormones released during sleep that boost immunity. Aim for eight hours every night, and shoot for at least nine after a long run.

  • Another post-marathon tip: lay low for the 48 hours after your run because your immune system can remain vulnerable that long. Avoid crowded places where you may be in contact with ill strangers, like movie theaters and malls, and, instead, stay home if you can.