Cold and flu season is upon us. There is a common misconception that athletes are generally healthier than those who do not exercise. While this is generally true, you may be as surprised as we were to find that there is a period of time, after intense exercise, wherein athletes are actually more prone to contracting respiratory illnesses. 

Say what?

Temporarily Decreased Immunity

So have you ever had a sick athlete and wondered just how the healthiest person in your house managed to get so sick? According to the National Institutes of Health, there is an “open window” of time after prolonged, intense exercise, in which major parts of the immune system are suppressed. During this 3-to 12 hour window of time, athletes (from any sport), have a significantly higher risk of contracting an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).

Does this mean your child is going to get sick after every practice, or during every cold and flu season? Of course not. What it does mean is you need to be consciously aware of when your child has more intense periods of training (like before a competition), and what preventative measures you’re taking just in case your fencer might actually be in the “window.”

Cold and Flu Prevention

The intensity of the exercise aside, it’s still important to take extra precautions during cold and flu season. Any sort of exercise, when sick, can take a toll on the body; and we do our best to avoid illness at all cost. So what can you do?

  • Get enough sleep. Tired of hearing this? Sorry. A well-rested body is a healthier body.
  • Eat after working out. This is tough for busy families, but a snack packed with vitamin C, consumed right after practice or an event, can do a world of good. 
  • Don’t shake hands. Don’t be rude, though. You’re not obligated to shake hands if you’ve been sick, think someone else is sick, or have just wiped sweat from your face. Instead, let the person know “I’ve been sick,” and offer a fist bump, forearm bump, or even bell guard bump instead. 
  • Wash your hands. This is the #1 way to keep viruses from spreading. Use water and soap, and carry hand sanitizer (especially if you’re already sick). You’ll be able to better avoid viruses as well as do your part to prevent the spread if you already have one. 

Don’t ever be afraid to talk to your coach if you aren’t feeling well and don’t feel as though you can practice. You may be able to benefit from watching a class, or you may simply need to go home and rest. No one has unrealistic expectations and one thing is for sure — it’s better to take a day off and rest if you’re ill than it is to make yourself worse and end up down-and-out for a longer period of time.