I Tried to 'Bike Off' a Cold and People Are Telling Me I'm Dumb

May 5th 2017

Charles Davis

I woke up refreshed, the haze of illness giving way to clarity of purpose: Life being precious and short, I would make up for a day in bed lost with a day in the sun, punishing the malign spirits still inside me with good, Protestant exercise. I would, I told myself, “bike off” the lingering effects of my cold.

The chills kicked in around mile 30 in the canyons of Malibu (which is beautiful, by the way). At mile 54, as I pulled back into my apartment complex, it was clear that I had committed a grave error. I was now, in fact, sicker than when I’d left. I’d regressed, and it was apparent that I’d continue along the bed-ridden path of regression overnight.

If it’d worked—biking myself to health by nearly biking myself to death—I would be giving a TED Talk today. Instead, I was left alone, in obscurity, with my increasingly foggy mind obsessively pondering one question: Did I misread that (obscenity) WebMD article?

No, not really. The medical consensus is that, so long as one does not have a fever, a little exercise is like a spoonful of sugar: an acceptable part of one’s treatment. It doesn’t speed along recovery, but it doesn’t hurt it, either.

In general, that is. As I learned upon rereading, “If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it’s time to hang up the running,” Neil Schachter, director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, told WebMD.

But I didn’t have those symptoms, actually. I had a sore throat and sniffles; the other stuff—coughing, wheezing and aches—only came after the exercise that science told me was basically fine.

“For what it’s worth,” said Robert Davis, a family doctor outside Philadelphia who is also my father, “exercise generates adrenaline, which is similar to pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant.” That’s why, for some people, a little exercise while dealing with a cold makes them feel better: it’s like a drug. It’s also why some feel worse.

“Many people have exercise-induced asthma,” he told me, and—for those prone to lung-related problems (me)—hard exercise while ill can actually help a cold travel from one’s head on down, leading to an upper-respiratory infection.

That’s what happened in this sad-affair-turned-content: sniffles became wheezing and an ugly cough that kept me at home, socially isolated in quarantine, for two days (it wasn’t even a weekend). Maybe, then, my error was skimming WebMD and ignoring the advice of the 26-year-old I worked alongside in the University of San Diego mailroom: get wasted.

“Couple shots of Wild Turkey—100 proof—the moment you start to feel sick,” he said, closing with the word “bro.”

While I didn’t care about the answer—drinking makes intuitive sense, to me, though I prefer a higher-grade fuel—I asked my dad about this too.

“Not sure,” he said, “but I would say ‘no’ on alcohol. You might fall over and hit your head and your sinuses would really hurt.”

Every dad thinks they're funny; they can't help it; there is no cure.

I drank a glass of whisky anyway—as part of a team-building exercise at the ATTN: office around 12 hours later—and felt great, or at least mostly fine (quick update: I feel worse). However, alcohol dehydrates, a problem for the unwell writer in desperate need of hydration. As with exercise or anything, the key is moderation. And especially when you're sick, a salad with a tall glass of water, followed by a nap, is still preferable to a shot and a half-marathon.