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Exercising with Seasonal Allergies

Don't Let Allergens Interfere with Your Workouts

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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
  • 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.
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.

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Member Comments

  • TALASBFF
    This is going to sound crazy but I started using nasal filters. I had heard about them and researched them online. The ones I got are called WoodyNose but there are others. It takes a few days to get accustomed but I can go out now and no sinus headaches!
  • 4++ dust allergy and a 4++ pollen allergy. I have to exercise inoutdoors lol

    A lot of other good suggestions though.
  • I just use my inhaler before every run (indoor and outdoor, because my seasonal allergies are year-round and indoor/outdoor) and bring lots of tissues in my spi belt.
  • EMILYSBEEE
    The only problem is that some of us have indoor and outdoor allergies. Simply switching locations doesn't always help. But this article has a lot of good tips I hadn't thought of!
  • CIRANDELLA
    When my nose runs, I catch it - sometimes, I burn quite a few calories that way!
  • You should add giving up dairy products as a way to help reducing the affects of allergies. My allergies are very severe and this is one thing that has really helped me. Dairy products increase mucous production in the body, and if you've got allergies that's the one thing you don't need more of! I gave up dairy a year ago, and while my allergies didn't vanish, I had fewer really BAD days, and they were less severe. To me, that's a serious win!
  • Somedays, mine are so bad that I drip almost continuously which makes it hard to workout at the Y. If I take an antihistamine to dry things up, I then don't sweat so it's a lose-lose situation.
  • i'm so miserable! i also spent a day riding bikes in the park, and on the way home i started sneezing and could not stop. I have been exercising indoors since then and it seems to help. It's hard to get motivated to workout when you feel awful, but I'm always glad I did.
  • Aw yes, too little too late. I took a bike ride last week when tree pollens were off the charts and started a nasty bout with asthma. Tues. laryngitis, Wed. doc and then on to steroids and cough syrup (sleep blessed sleep). Thurs better but no exercise until today. Yesterday, allergist and a readjustment of meds and some helpful advice. Putting my nebulizer to work again and am breathing a lot better. Take care of yourself and you can exercise AND breathe.
  • I find that working out helps lessen the symptoms of my seasonal allergies. Once I get moving, I'm good. When I stop, though, the symptoms come back full-force.
  • I use a low pressure sinus rinse kit. It is the same idea as a Neti Pot, but it is my opinion it works even better!
  • I use a low pressure sinus rinse kit. It is the same idea as a Neti Pot, but it is my opinion it works even better!
  • Great article!! Another good thing to do is use a Neti pot to help keep your sinuses clear. I have been doing this since April and am happy to say that I am symptom free from my problems that I would get. Also, watch what you eat as foods trigger the symptoms too.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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