I’m back from the brink of Man Flu. Don’t listen to what your wives and girlfriends say lads, because it is the real deal. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.”

You know what I say to that!?

Piss off I know what I feel!

Now, there currently is not enough research out there for me to make these claims, although some studies have been done that do support the claim that us men already know to be true. A study by Dr Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, suggests that males have a less robust immune system than females, with evidence supporting men suffering more from viral respiratory illnesses than women.

Regardless of the studies, I’m going to go all anecdotal on this one and claim it all anyways!

No but seriously, the point to today’s ramblings go a little further than debating whether Man Flu is real or not. A suggestion made during my research got me thinking more about our behaviour when we get sick, especially males.

In the research it suggested that the lower immunity in males could be an evolutionary trait. By really kicking us down hard and forcing us into a state where we cannot do much more than rest, the intention to stop our ancestors from going out hunting while ill and putting themselves at further risk.

This doesn’t sound too far different from the blokes of today hey? Although many of us hardened lads do all we can to ignore the messages and push on despite our illness. (when I say “us” I’m certainly not referring to my recent efforts, I was down and out!)

“Nar she’ll be right” we often say as we head off to work, clearly not well enough to be doing anything. ‘Man up’ is the common phrase we use. If you can’t push through serious illness, what kind of man are you?

During my bout of Man Flu last week I did a little research of my own. I have recently become the proud owner of my first Garmin watch. The amount of data this little beast collects is unreal, any fitness nut would love it. As well as collecting typical information such as heart rate and steps, this one has a ‘stress’ feature. The watch measures your Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which means it is tracking your heart rate in relation to your activity level, as well as the amount of changes in heart rate, how quickly it changes and how often it changes. This data helps show or suggest to you when you’re under stress, your brain is ticking overtime or your heart is beating faster and harder than it should be. It then recommends whether you need to take a moment to chill out, meditate or just take some slow breaths to calm yourself down. It is a really useful feature, especially in today’s ultra fast-paced world.

I was already monitoring my daily stress levels since I began wearing the watch a few weeks ago, but I found some really significant changes in the data while I was sick. The graphs below map out the 8 days surrounding my flu. The system scores your daily stress level average from 0-100, with 0 being no stress, 100 being extreme stress (and probable impending heart attack). You can observe the markings in yellow and orange, referring to varying degrees of stress, the blue markings referring to rest periods.

On January 7 and 8, you can see my daily stress was low, with scores of 16 and 22. These days included short workouts and some admin work. The days of January 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 were the days I was experiencing the darkness that is Man Flu. With the 9th, 10th and 11th probably the most intense days. Suddenly my stress score averages had jumped up to 52, 66, 48, 36 and 46 respectively.

On these days I did not exercise and the majority of time was spent in bed or on the couch. But as you can see in the data, my stress was through the roof! You can see that even during sleeping times my stress was just as, if not higher than when I was awake. The swimming pool of sweat and the constant restless dreaming over those few days can vouch for that! You can even notice that on the 11th in the early morning, you can see my levels suddenly and very rapidly shift from rest to high stress, and I can tell exactly why this was. The evening before I had just switched cold and flu medication to something a little stronger. It did it’s job in helping me to enjoy some better sleep, but clearly it’s wondrous powers ran out at approximately 2am, where the Man Flu regained control of my soul and dragged my back down into its hot… then cold… then hot… then cold… Then hot cold depths.

Following the 13th Jan, you can see the data begin to smooth out again and show more periods of rest, but still not yet to the levels prior to Man Flu.

*I won’t post my heart rate data here, but my average resting heart rate had also increased quite alarmingly, jumping up by an average of at least 10bpm, despite the increase of forced rest.

What this data screams to me is, is that when we get sick we really need to slow the fuck down! And far too often we are not listening to the signs. If my body was under a near constant state of stress for five days, what sort of stress level would it have reached if I attempted to push through at work and even maybe continue to work out? What short or long term detrimental effect would I be putting on my health by doing that? Is it worth it? I don’t think it is.

We get so caught up in all the things we need to do, the things that we think are most urgent, most important, that we often forget what actually is most important. We can’t work without our health. We can’t work out without our health. Your employer won’t close down because you took some time off. You’re not going to lose all your gains in 5 days and you’re not going to get fat in 5 days either. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you, slow the hell down and enjoy some clearly overdue down time.


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