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exercising with allergies: girl running springtime

Outdoor Workout Tips For Seasonal Allergy Sufferers

As soon as pollen counts start rising, allergy sufferers prepare themselves for itchy eyes and lots of sneezes. And if you’ve ever been sidelined by an allergy-induced nosebleed, coughing, or wheezing in the springtime, you may wonder if you should hold off on working up a sweat outdoors until those flower blooms fade. However, generally speaking, exercising with allergies is totally safe. There are just a few things experts recommend keeping in mind before lacing up your sneakers and getting to it.

Fun Fact: exercise may actually help your allergies

Just as the blood-pumping benefits of exercise can improve cardiovascular health, they can also improve your allergies. In fact, according to the Mississippi Allergy & Asthma Clinic, the increased blood flow induced by exercise helps move allergens through your bloodstream faster. This ultimately helps filter and remove those allergens, which reduces their ability to contribute to inflammation and irritation. 

Read More: Why Your Allergies Are Worse This Year—And What To Do About It

Plus, if you happen to suffer from allergic asthma (in which the presence of an allergen triggers an immune system reaction in your lungs and airway), your asthma symptoms might just benefit from exercise, too. Aerobic exercise has substantial health benefits and may lessen sensitivity to asthma triggers, regardless of their cause. Thus, exercise should be encouraged, not avoided,” says Haroon Khalid, M.D., board-certified allergist and immunologist at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of Kansas City

In fact, a 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that adults with mild to moderate asthma who participated in an individualized exercise program at least three times per week for six months were more likely to see improvements in symptoms like shortness of breath than those who were part of a reference group. 

Pay attention to pollen counts

But just because a long-term exercise program may actually improve allergy and asthma symptoms, that doesn’t mean heading outside during peak allergy season isn’t going to leave you feeling crummy. If you know you’re bothered by a specific allergen (like oak pollen, for instance), hitting the road for a run when pollen counts are at their highest is basically a recipe for sniffling and sneezing all the way home. 

According to a 2008 paper published in Strength and Conditioning Journal, author Paul Sorace, M.S., C.S.C.S., states unequivocally, “The first priority for those with allergic rhinitis is reducing exposure to the allergen.” So on days when the pollen count is through the roof, it’s best to move your workout inside, or if you’re particularly affected by pollen, switch your workout to something less taxing. “For example, walking or running on an indoor track or treadmill is recommended when pollen concentrations are high,” Sorace explains. 

Read More: 5 Treadmill Workouts That’ll Make The Time Fly By

Khalid suggests using the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) website to find accurate information on allergy counts near you before heading out. “I’ve seen different sites using different ranges for pollen counts to determine what qualifies as ‘high,’ so just look at the source and the parameter for ‘high,’ ‘moderate,’ or ‘low.’ Generally it’s measured as the average number of pollen grains per cubic meter,” he says. 

Pay attention to the weather and time of day

When allergens are in the air, windy, dry weather isn’t going to do you any favors, as it’s just going to blow more of those allergens right into your nasal passages. Plus, many allergen counts are highest in the mornings, so exercising first thing is a good way to set yourself up for sniffling and sneezing. “Pollen counts are usually highest in the early morning, so that might not be the best time to go for a run,” says Steve Hruby, D.C., founder of Kaizen Progressive Health in Scottsdale. “You can try to exercise during the early evening when pollen counts are lower.” 

Also, exercising after a rain (while things are still wet) is a good way to reduce exposure to pollen, as the rain helps clear the air and keeps pollen from blowing around. 

Pre-medicate and mask up to reduce potential symptoms

If experience has taught you that exercising outside during allergy season is destined to leave you laid up with rhinitis symptoms, it’s a good idea to pre-medicate before your exercise routine. Sorace’s article emphasizes that pretreatment with medication “can minimize or even prevent symptoms,” but warns that competitive athletes should talk to their doctors and coaches about the medicines they’re using to avoid taking something that could impact their performance. 

Hruby also recommends pre-medicating, as needed. “If you’re really struggling with allergies, you can try taking an antihistamine before you exercise.” 

In addition to antihistamines, you can consider homeopathic medicines like Boiron’s RhinAllergy.

Another option: wearing a face mask, which can help to filter out some of the allergens in the air when exercising outdoors.

Stay hydrated to reduce reactions

Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate!

You already know you’re supposed to stay hydrated during exercise, but it may be particularly important during allergy season—especially if you have asthma. 

You see, research suggests that dehydration during exercise can further amplify the effects of exercise-induced asthma. And while exercise-induced and allergic asthma are different, Khalid believes that dehydration is likely to increase symptoms in both. 

So if you plan on exercising with allergies while pollen counts are high, don’t forget to take your water bottle with you!

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