For some people, exercise itself is an uncomfortable activity, with all the sweating, huffing and puffing, and challenge that comes with elevating your heart rate for an extended period of time. But for people with seasonal allergies, the discomforts of exercise reach a whole new level. Your eyes are itchy and watery, your nose is stuffed up or runny, and breathing can become difficult. But that doesn't mean that you should give up on your plans to make regular exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle. In general, people with allergies can and should exercise (as long as their health care provider says it's okay). The following tips will help you make the most of your workouts and keep your allergy symptoms at bay.
Before Your Workout
- Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- If you are a beginner to fitness, exercise indoors for a few weeks before you move your workout sessions outside. This will help you build up your fitness level without worrying about allergy symptoms on top of the challenges of starting an exercise program.
- Take your allergy medication on a regular basis to remain protected. At the very least, take your medication and/or use eye drops at least one hour (or 24 hours, if using a nasal spray) prior to exercising.
- If you receive allergy shots, do not exercise strenuously for at least one or two hours after your injection. Vigorous exercise, which increases heart rate and blood flow, can lead to a rapid absorption of the shot, increasing your chances of serious side effects.
- Watch the weather. Changes in weather (temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation) all affect pollen counts. Warm, dry, and breezy days—especially in the morning—tend to increase pollen counts (avoid outdoor exercise during these conditions), while rainy, cooler days and evenings will reduce pollen concentration.
- If you're feeling under the weather, avoid outdoor exercise. Your immune system is more likely to react severely to allergens when you're tired, sick, or overly stressed.
- Before heading outside, listen to the radio to check pollen/mold counts or log onto a pollen count website. Adjust your workout plan accordingly, based on the counts and your level of sensitivity. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, "low" pollen counts will only affect individuals who are extremely sensitive to pollen and mold; "moderate" pollen counts will give many individuals symptoms; and "high" pollen counts affect almost everyone with any sensitivity to pollen and molds.
- Spend at least five minutes warming up before you start each workout.
During Your Workout
Here are some tips that will help prevent and reduce your allergy symptoms so you can exercise comfortably.
- If you're allergic to dust mites, you can avoid breathing indoor dust by exercising outdoors.
- If you're allergic to grasses and weeds, avoid these allergens by exercising indoors during the height of the allergy season.
- Air pollution can trigger a tightening of the airways in sensitive individuals, making it difficult to breathe when exercising on sidewalks—and even up to 50 feet away from the road. Avoid contact with outdoor pollutants (near busy roads, for example) by exercising at low-traffic times and locations or exercising indoors.
- If you're allergic to pollen and want to exercise outdoors, plan your workouts for times when pollen counts are lowest. They tend to peak between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., so skip an early morning workout in favor of an afternoon or evening exercise session.
- If your seasonal allergies are severe, you may need to limit your outdoor workouts completely—especially when pollen counts are at their peak levels.
- Remember that outdoor allergens like pollen can travel several miles. Although you may feel better when exercising further away from allergens like grass and trees, you may still exhibit allergy symptoms while on a tennis court, an asphalt track, or even at the beach.
- To prevent itchy, watery eyes when outdoors, wear wrap-around sunglasses to prevent allergens and wind from compounding the problem.
- Consider wearing a paper face mask to filter out allergens while you breathe heavily during exercise.
After Your Workout
Exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. While allergies may be a nuisance, there are lots of options for working your workouts around your symptoms. In fact, a good workout may even help reduce your allergy symptoms. Your body produces extra adrenalin during exercise, which benefits the body by lowering your allergic response (temporarily). This means that exposure to outdoor allergens while you are working out might not result in a reaction. But once that workout is over (and adrenalin levels return to normal), allergy symptoms are more likely to flare up.
- Spend at least 5 minutes to properly cool down. And don't forget to stretch!
- If you exercised outdoors, change you clothes (preferably outside to keep allergens on your clothes out of the house), and shower as soon as possible to remove allergens from your skin and hair.
- Keep windows closed and use the air conditioner to clear the air even more.
- Consider using a nasal spray (saline) to clear allergens from your nose.