There’s nothing worse than getting into a great training routine and then coming down with a cold or infection.
You may feel like your training is set back weeks, but the reality is that continuing to train through illness can be much worse for you than taking the time to recover.
Bronchitis is a common health complaint, and chances are most runners have had it more than once. But can you run with bronchitis?
Let’s have a look at the condition and how it affects the body.
What Is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from your lungs.
Once the linings of your bronchial tubes are inflamed, it triggers an increase in thick, discolored mucus inside of them.
This narrows the tubes, making it difficult for the air to move through them, and you end up with a nagging cough.
There are types of bronchitis: acute and chronic, with chronic being the more severe of the two.
Acute bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, is often caused by the same viral infection that causes colds and flu.
It can start with a runny nose, sore throat, or a sinus infection that spreads to your chest and infects the bronchial tubes. It usually gets better within 1 to 3 weeks, and has no lasting effects.
Chronic bronchitis is more serious, as your bronchial tubes are inflamed for a long time and the symptoms last for at least 3 months. The symptoms of this type of bronchitis either don’t go away at all or they recur on and off for at least two consecutive years.
While this type of bronchitis may be caused by a respiratory infection, it can also be caused by exposure to lung-irritating chemical substances or tobacco smoke.
Chronic bronchitis can cause structural changes to the bronchial tubes, which leads to airflow obstruction. This condition is then grouped under a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What Happens With the Lungs When Having Bronchitis?
When the bronchial tubes are inflamed and filled with mucus, it’s difficult for the air to enter and exit your lungs.
Your body will have to work harder to get air to the alveoli, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged when you breathe in and out.
The oxygen that you breathe in is passed through the alveoli and into the bloodstream and then travels throughout your body.
In order to get more oxygen into the lungs, your diaphragm will be working harder, as it contracts to form a vacuum that pulls air into your lungs when you inhale.
As you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes, returning to its normal shape and forcing air out of the lungs.
With your bronchial tubes being inflamed, not all the air you’ve breathed in is forced out. This stale air may become “trapped” in the lung and can affect your lung capacity.
This makes breathing more challenging, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, and an achy chest.
What Is the Difference Between a Cold and Bronchitis?
Both a cold and bronchitis are caused by a virus, which is why it may be difficult to tell if you have bronchitis or a regular cold for the first few days.
The main difference between a cold and bronchitis is that a cold is a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract. This infection will also affect your throat, nose, and sinuses, which is why you often have either a runny or stuffy nose.
With bronchitis, the viral infection occurs lower in the respiratory tract, where it affects the bronchial tubes. If you have bronchitis you’ll feel it in your lungs, as there is usually chest pain either with deep breaths or when you cough.
Can I Run or Exercise With Bronchitis?
If you have bronchitis you should avoid exercise while you’re symptomatic, which is typically for 3 to 10 days.
The golden rule for training is that if your symptoms are at the neck or above—like a sore throat, sneezing, running nose etc—then it’s usually okay to exercise.
If, however, your symptoms are below the neck and you have body aches, chills, fatigue, difficulty breathing, etc, then you should wait until the symptoms subside.
If you run or exercise you’ll increase the stress on your body, impair your body’s immune reactions and increase your risk for injury or heat-related illness.
Once the symptoms have subsided, you may find that you have a lingering dry cough for several weeks. You can exercise with a dry cough, but you may find vigorous exercise like running, aerobics, or playing basketball to be a bit challenging.
It will take several weeks for you to get back to your regular activity levels after acute bronchitis. Your lungs will take a bit longer to recover and will remain inflamed for a few weeks, even after all the other symptoms have subsided.
If you have chronic bronchitis, exercise can help alleviate and improve some of the symptoms. You’ll find that your intercostal muscles and diaphragm strengthen, which will help support respiration.
While it may seem challenging to exercise with chronic bronchitis, there are breathing techniques that you can use, like the pursed-lip.
This will help you breathe deeper and allow you to take more oxygen in while exercising. This will help improve symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, and fatigue.
With both acute and chronic bronchitis, it’s important to let your body guide you. But if you’re wheezing a lot or short of breath, then you should wait until that subsides!
What Are the Benefits of Exercising With Bronchitis?
There are several benefits to exercising if you have chronic bronchitis, even though the thought of it may be daunting.
With chronic bronchitis being a long-term inflammation of the bronchial tubes, you’ll find that exercise can alleviate symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
Exercising regularly when you have chronic bronchitis will help improve your blood circulation, increase your energy levels, and strengthen your cardiovascular system.
It will help to strengthen the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which can help you do more activities without becoming short of breath or fatigued.
If you have acute bronchitis, then you should avoid activities like running and instead choose light cardiovascular exercises like walking or swimming.
Light cardiovascular exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of bronchitis and may help with the recovery process. You need to be mindful that if you push yourself, the physical demand can exceed the oxygen levels that your lungs are capable of producing.
When Should You Avoid Running With Bronchitis and When Should I Immediately Stop Exercising?
You may need to avoid running when there are changes in weather, as running in extreme heat or cold conditions can aggravate the bronchial tubes.
This can increase breathing complications such shortness of breath, uncontrolled coughing, and wheezing.
You should also avoid running if environmental factors such as pollen and dust are present, as they can aggravate and trigger breathing complications.
When you have acute bronchitis, it’s always best to stop running when you’re still symptomatic and have a fever.
If your symptoms have subsided and you start running again, then you should stop immediately if you experience any of the following while running:
- Shortness of breath
- Light-headedness or feeling faint
- Tight chest or chest pain
- Rapid or irregular breath
- Increased body aches
A good rule of thumb to follow is that you should immediately stop exercising if you no longer have enough air to speak. If you don’t have enough airflow to be able to speak, then you’ve overexerted yourself.
What Exercises Are Usually Recommended or Can Be Done With Chronic Bronchitis?
Unfortunately, chronic bronchitis isn’t curable but exercise can help strengthen your respiratory muscles, which will improve your cardiovascular endurance.
Exercising regularly can help you breathe easier, feel better, and prevent symptoms from recurring.
The best type of exercise to do with chronic bronchitis is aerobic exercises, strength training, and stretches.
Aerobic exercise like walking, biking, and swimming will help your body use oxygen more efficiently.
Resistance training (with hand weights or bands) will help strengthen the muscles that support your respiratory system.
Stretching should be done before and after each training session, as it helps to prepare the muscle for the activity, prevents injury, and can help with muscle recovery.
To help with your breathing while you exercise, you can use the pursed-lip breathing technique.
Tips for Getting Back After Recovery From Bronchitis
When you start running again, you may find that it does stir up the coughing. While you may find that you usually cough afterwards, you can also start coughing while you run.
If you do start coughing, stop and walk until it subsides. Then you can continue running.
For your first run, you may want to take an easy 3 or 4-mile run, or at the very least reduce the duration, distance, and intensity. Make sure to follow a steady, comfortable pace on your first few runs and don’t push yourself.
Not only will this help you rebuild lung strength, but if you have a coughing fit then you won’t be too far from home.
If the weather is cold, then wear a bandana or neck gaiter to help protect your airways from cold air that can constrict and aggravate them.
You could also try breathing through your nose as you run, as this will warm the air and remove any irritants before it reaches your bronchial tubes.
You may have to adjust your planned workouts when the weather changes, as heat waves or high levels of humidity can make it harder to breathe. This can aggravate your bronchial tubes causing a coughing fit.
Incorporate strength training into your workout to improve your muscle strength, as this helps improve oxygen inefficiency. You’ll then find that the demand on the lungs for more oxygen decreases.
Take as many breaks or rest periods as you need on your runs. This will help you base the intensity of your run on what feels comfortable rather than intensity or heart rate, as this can lead to overexerting yourself.
Make sure to cool down properly after your run, as this will help your breathing rate to return to normal.
Bear in mind that even though you may be feeling better, the inflammation of your bronchial tubes will linger for a few weeks.
This can lead to dry coughing fits during or after your run and it will take some time before you’re able to return to your normal routine.
You can also speak to your doctor about getting an inhaler to help provide relief from coughing, while you run.
While you can’t speed up your recovery from bronchitis, there are a few things that you can do to help alleviate the symptoms.
Drink lots of warm, clear liquids, and avoid caffeinated drinks. Warm green tea, herbal tea with honey, apple juice, and chicken broth are all great liquids that will help you feel better.
The fluid will help to thin the mucus in your chest, loosen congestion, and provide relief from a sore throat and runny or stuffy nose.
Use a humidifier, as steam can also help to clear up congestion. If you don’t have a humidifier on hand, you can either let the hot water run in your shower to create a steam room for a better breathing environment, or put hot water in a bowl and put a towel over your head, lean over the bowl, and breathe in the steam.
Make sure that your body is getting the rest it needs! Sleep has a direct impact on your immune system, as this is when your body repairs and generates new cells and tissue.
By allowing your body to rest and get sleep, you’ll be boosting your immune system and healing your body.
Fatigue is a symptom of bronchitis and you may be tempted to order in or pick up some fast food. But your body needs healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein to help boost your immune system.
Avoid dairy products like cheese, ice cream, and milk as these can increase the amount of mucus that your body produces.