Although it’s necessary to challenge (and even break down) our body in order to elicit greater fitness adaptations, there will be times when it is more beneficial to use cycling to balance out ongoing, and accumulated stress that tax our immune system, with positive physical and emotional activities that support it.
Both training stress, and life stress, produce similar challenges to our immune system. When the immune system is faced with multiple challenges, from varies sources, it can become overloaded. An overloaded immune system can make us more vulnerable to illness and injury.
Life stress can emanate from varies sources including work, relationships, traffic, air pollution and allergies, finances, alcohol, poor nutrition, inadequate sleep length and quality, loss and grieving, and even moving to a new residence.
We all have what I call our Personal Adaptation Threshold (PAT). There is a point when our body, including our nervous system, can’t absorb anymore training stress. A professional athlete will push themselves close to, and occasionally over this limit, but their age, and lifestyle, is more likely to allow for adequate recovery from this than ours might. Most of us won’t want to, or need to, reach our PAT more than occasionally throughout the year.
There are many things that can impact how much training load can push you to your PAT. It will vary based on such things as our age, current life stress levels, ongoing nutrition, sleep quality, weather and daylight, etc. So, some weeks, the same rides that you’ve done before (same duration and intensity) might move you closer to your PAT than that same ride would in previous weeks if you’re not sleeping and eating well, or your life stress is high. Training load also accumulates, and needs to be regularly reduced, with rest days, and rest weeks.
A bike ride can be a restorative activity. An easy, and enjoyable, bike ride may help increase circulation, enhance digestion, get you outdoors in fresh air and daylight, and add some movement to your day. If you choose routes that are quiet, and scenic, it may also help improve your mood, help you relax, and get your mind off the chaos of daily life. Personally, I find mountain biking to be the best for this, but also have routes that I use my road bike on along gravel roads, and trails, through the local foothills. Getting into the woods, even a low traffic tree lined road, helps me feel better, and more connected to life and nature. Feeling relaxed, and happy, can have a positive impact on your immune system, while being rushed, and anxious, can have a negative impact.
If you live somewhere that riding outdoors isn’t always possible try setting up your trainer where you can look out an open window at a garden or trees, rather than at a computer, or phone screen. Try opening windows and doors across the room to get fresh, cross ventilation, air flow.
There are times to push your limits, and challenge yourself, but don’t make that your goal for every ride, every day. Many people go too hard on what should be their easy days, and then are unable to go hard enough on their hard days. Since the challenges we face can vary each day we need to adjust our daily riding goals accordingly.
If you’re feeling tired, and uncertain about where your body is relative to your PAT, try committing to nothing more than an easy spin down to your favorite coffee shop, or through a local set of scenic trails, and see how you feel. If your body feels like its firing on all cylinders, try easing the intensity up and ride based on how well your body responds. If you’re struggling with getting, and keeping, the effort level above easy/moderate, then use the ride to help regenerate your body rather than challenge it.
Eat fresh, colorful, organic fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats daily. Avoid added refined sugar, and alcohol. Get a minimum of 8 hours of quality sleep daily, more on days you train, and work longer, and harder. Find a couple of times a day when you can practice some form of relaxation. Even just 10-15 minutes of light yoga, pilates, stretching, or meditation can make a difference in your mood, and might help you focus, and perform better, after you take the health break.
Each day ask yourself what you can do today to become fitter, and healthier. The answer isn’t always going to be to go out and do a long, hard ride. The answer may be to take a day off, take a nap, or do an easy restorative ride that helps to unload accumulated stress and maintain a healthy immune system balance. Cycling can be used to help support the immune system, rather than overloading it.