Exercise Outdoors -- Even With Allergies
Here's how to take your workout outside and stay free of allergy symptoms.
Weather Is Key continued...
To discover what your personal tolerance level is, Shepherd
says monitor the pollen levels and keep track of the point at which you
begin to experience symptoms. Then use that information, along with daily
pollen counts, to plan activities when and where you are least likely to
Now if you're thinking that all you need do to eliminate
symptoms is choose a workout site that is void of grass and trees, guess
"Pollen can travel miles, so theoretically you could jog on
the deck of a cruise ship and still have pollen symptoms," says allergist
Kathleen Sheerin, MD, head of the Public Education committee of the AAAAI.
That said, allergist Christopher Randolph, MD, tells WebMD that
the farther you are from the source of the pollen the better you are
likely to feel. So, while you may not be able to completely avoid allergic
symptoms, you can significantly cut down on the severity by choosing your
"An asphalt tennis court would be better than a
grassy terrain, while exercising on the beach may produce fewer symptoms than
working out in a heavily wooded area," says Randolph, associate clinical
professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.
Later Rather Than Sooner
Although exercising outdoors can increase your contact with
pollen, ironically, the extra adrenalin your body produces while you are
working out can temporarily dampen the allergic response. This, says Shepherd,
in combination with the actual time it takes for contact with pollen to incite
an allergic reaction -- about an hour -- means your worst symptoms might
not occur while you are exercising at all, but after you stop.
To reduce your risk of allergies after outdoor workouts,
experts say always take a shower, wash your hair and put on clean clothes
immediately after working out to eliminate further contact with pollen.
In addition, don't forget the power of allergy medications to
make outdoor activity more pleasurable. In fact, Randolph tells WebMD that with
the proper medication nearly everyone with seasonal allergies can enjoy the
great outdoors without fear. For best results, however, experts say take your
medications on a regular basis, so you are fully protected when you do
go outside. If you normally use medication only when you know you will be
exposed to an allergen, Sheerin says take it at least one hour before you plan
your outdoor workout. Nasal steroid sprays should be started 24 hours before a
Finally, it's also important to remember that if your seasonal
allergies are severe, you may have to limit your time outdoors -- to times when
pollen counts are at their lowest -- or keep all your workouts indoors,
particularly on days when pollen counts are high, and it's warm and windy.
If, in fact, you do want to try and spend more time outdoors,
our experts offer the following additional tips for reducing allergy
- If itchy, watery eyes are a problem, wear goggles, or wrap around
sunglasses when exercising outdoors -- and don't forget the power of eye drops,
used about an hour before you go outside. If you find your eyes itch after
going to bed, or when you wake, change your pillowcase daily, and be certain to
wash hair before hitting the sheets at night.
- For activities that involve heavy breathing (such as running or bike
racing) a light paper face filter may help reduce pollen intake.
- Use a saline nasal spray to clear the nose of excess pollen after you
- Avoid exercising outdoors if you are run down, tired, jet lagged, or
stressed, since your immune system is likely to react more swiftly and severely
to an allergen. Women with seasonal allergies should avoid exercising outdoors
during their menstrual cycle, since the body may be slightly more sensitive to
allergens during this time.
- If you are beginning a fitness program, and allergies are moderate to
severe, exercise indoors for several weeks to help condition your body, before
moving activities outdoors.
- Be aware of oral allergy syndrome -- a cross reaction between what you eat
and the pollen count outside. If you are allergic to birch trees for example,
eating apples, cherries, peaches, plums or celery seed, before or after working
out, might intensify allergy symptoms. Other possible cross-reactions include
chamomile tea, melon, banana, cucumber, and sunflower seeds, which interact
with ragweed and other weed pollens.
- After you finish exercising outdoors -- or if allergy symptoms flare -- go
inside, shut windows, and if possible put on an air conditioner to clear the
air. Remain inside until symptoms subside.
- Learn how to interpret pollen counts, and keep track of the levels in your
area. Here is some important information from the American Academy of Allergy,
Asthma, and Immunology:
- If pollen counts are low only individuals extremely sensitive to pollen and
mold will experience symptoms.
- If pollen counts are moderate many individuals sensitive to these pollens
and molds will experience symptoms.
- If pollen counts are very high almost all individuals with any sensitivity
at all to these pollens and molds will experience symptoms. Extremely sensitive
people could have severe symptoms.