Exercising Outdoors With Seasonal Allergies
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Seasonal allergies don’t have to keep your workouts confined to the gym. With a little planning and creativity, you can exercise outdoors while keeping seasonal allergy symptoms on the sidelines. What's the strategy? Know what your allergy triggers are, and then you can plan outdoor exercise when levels of these allergens are at their lowest.
Know Your Allergy Triggers
The first step to exercising outdoors with seasonal allergies is to know your triggers, says allergist Richard Weber, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of allergy and clinical immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
To develop your trigger checklist, talk with your doctor about performing tests to determine what allergens are responsible for your allergy symptoms. Seasonal allergy symptoms can include a runny nose, watery eyes, and congestion, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Then you can adjust for general and seasonal allergies and outdoor activities.
For example, Dr. Weber says that if you are sensitive to mold spores, you should exercise outdoors during the evening and early-morning hours because mold levels are higher once the sun rises and evaporates the mold spores on plants.
In general, pollen levels are higher on dry, windy days, but different plants, trees, and grasses have particular times of day when the most pollen is produced.
“Ragweed pollen is highest in the late morning to early afternoon,” Weber says. “So if you are going to go for a run, then run first thing in the morning if you are sensitive to ragweed.”
You can find out what the levels of common allergens — including molds, weeds, trees, and grasses — in your area are by checking websites like that of the ACAAI National Allergy Bureau and listening to your local weather forecasts.
But keep this in mind: Weber says that any pollen count given in these reports is the average level over the last 24 hours.
Plan Ahead for Exercising With Seasonal Allergies
If pollen levels are high and postponing your outdoor workout isn’t an option, find other ways to be proactive with your allergy management.
“People who want to be outside and exercising probably need some medication on board,” Weber says. He suggests looking for a nonsedating antihistamine if you want to be active after taking medication. An over-the-counter version is fine if your symptoms respond to it and you experience them only about two to three days a week.
If your seasonal allergy symptoms are more severe, you may need a prescription allergy medication like a nasal steroid. These are most effective when taken before allergy season starts to decrease your body’s immune response to allergens.
Wearing sunglasses may also help protect your eyes from exposure to pollen if itchy, watery eyes are a problem for you.
Sidestep Allergens When Exercising Outdoors
How and where you exercise outdoors can also have a big impact on seasonal allergy symptoms.
For instance, “if you are sensitive to grass pollen, then maybe it’s not the best idea to be playing soccer,” Weber says.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that if you have seasonal allergies or asthma, you should avoid exercising in areas with high concentrations of allergens and irritants, like fields, areas with many trees, busy roads, and factories. Instead, have a few different modes of exercise you can do outside depending on your location, seasonal allergies, and triggers. Also, breathe through your nose, not your mouth, and work out with a partner if you are at risk for a severe allergic response.
Ideas for Balancing Seasonal Allergies and Outdoor Activities
In addition to taking your allergy medications as directed, there are other steps you can take to manage allergy symptoms while exercising outside. Try these ideas:
- Exercise out of the wind.“Setting up your own personal outdoor gym is a great way to keep things clean and pollen-free and away from wind tunnels,” says personal trainer Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. White also suggests mixing up your fitness regimen with swimming or perhaps indoor soccer to keep active and away from allergies.
- Focus on flexibility.When you're having bothersome symptoms, “try incorporating stretching, yoga, and full-body strengthening circuits instead of endurance activities like running,” White says.
- Pick your best times.Pay attention to pollen counts, says personal trainer Joy Murphy, based in Jacksonville, Florida. White recommends splitting your workout routine into smaller time chunks — some inside, some outside — to reduce exposure to pollens.
- Clean off after a workout.“Keep facial wipes, eye drops, saline spray, and disinfectant wipes in your car, purse, office, or gym bag,” White says. Showering and changing clothes immediately after a workout will remove pollen, but if you can’t shower, wiping off and rinsing out your nose and eyes will help. Change before you get back into your car to keep pollen out. White also recommends cleaning off any exercise equipment and mats you might have used outside.
- Stay hydrated.“People think they drink more than they do,” Murphy says. If you're coping with seasonal allergies along with hot, humid weather, it's especially important to drink water,
The bottom line on exercising with seasonal allergies: You don't have to tiptoe around them if you take necessary precautions. You'll get in a great outdoors workout with a lot less sniffling.
Video: Exercise and Allergies
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