You know the signs: shallow breaths, wheezing and a tightening in your chest. You try to get a run in early, and you end up having an asthma attack. When you suffer with seasonal allergies or sports-induced asthma, it can be hard – or impossible – to do the things you love. Exercise that’s supposed to keep you healthy leaves you feeling exasperated. As defeating as it may seem, your al fresco fitness fate is not doomed. These tips will help breathe fresh air into your outdoor exercise plan.
Allergy facts & stats:
Approximately 24 million adults and children are affected by asthma in the United States (300 million worldwide), and more than 50 million Americans deal with allergies during the peak seasons. Hint: those would be spring, summer and early fall. You’re probably saying to yourself, “So the cold, dreary winter is when I get to go outside – grrr-eat.” If you can’t stand the thought of spending the prettiest days of the year stuck on a treadmill, your very first step should be to talk to an allergist or immunologist. They can run tests and prescribe a customized plan of action for you to follow. Once you’ve consulted with the pros, your fate is in your hands…
Step 1: Prepare & Protect
Ragweed, mold, grass and pet dander are a few of the most common allergens. Know your triggers and what time of year you’re most likely exposed to these allergens or irritants. The Zyrtec mobile app is a quick-and-easy way to check pollen count wherever you are. It also estimates the allergy impact based on the predominant pollens in your area and for that particular day. The weather forecast is built into the app, so you’ll get a heads up on the expected highs and lows as well as what the wind has in store. Cool, rainy days typically come with the lowest pollen count – perfect running weather!
Once you’ve determined the weather conditions are suitable, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing a “prolonged aerobic warm-up.” An extra 15 – 30 minutes can help with blood flow and healthy lung function, especially for those prone to asthma. Now’s also the time to prep your body with any prescribed medications, over-the-counter formulas or nasal-clearing sprays you’ve been advised to use before a workout.
If you suffer with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (aka narrowing of the airways that may cause an asthma-like reaction), make sure to take any prescribed medication, such as an inhaler, at the appropriate time. Your doctor may recommend using an inhaler 15 minutes before you begin exercising. I choose to use mine about 45 minutes to an hour before I head out, because I’m overly sensitive to stimulants and need the extra time to get the jitters out, so to speak. Have that conversation with your doctor, and they may adjust their recommendations accordingly – everyone is different.
Bottom line: NEVER start exercising without preparing your body for what’s to come. ALWAYS keep an inhaler or epinephrine on you for safe keeping while you exercise. And try to work out with a buddy, carry a phone with you or stay close enough to home that you have help close by in case of an emergency. Take it from me, it’s not fun to have an asthma attack a mile from home at 5:30 a.m. when it’s dark outside and no one else in the neighborhood is awake. The more precaution you can take, the better off you’ll be.
Step 2: Assess & Adapt
As an active individual, you should always listen closely to what your body is telling you before and during any workout. Allergy and asthma sufferers, especially, should be mindful of certain cues. Did you get adequate sleep the night before? Did you wake up with a stuffy nose or scratchy throat? Your body has its own way of signaling what to expect from it. Pay attention and adapt your workout, as needed. Maybe you need to run at a slower pace today and gradually build as you feel fit, or maybe stay inside and swim if the weather is exceptionally breezy.
While working out, focus on controlling your breath. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose or mouth. This may mean slowing your pace or reducing your effort, but your nose is a natural filter – let it do its job.
Step 3: Clean & Clear
It’s important to make sure you’re clean of pollen from head to toe as soon as you get home, so you don’t drag pollen and dust through the house and keep breathing it in. Immediately after exercising outside, hop in the shower. Shampoo hair thoroughly and toss all clothes in the laundry (with hypoallergenic detergent, of course) to wash right away. NEVER put wet clothes directly in the hamper to sit for a couple days. In fact, a shoe-drying rack is a great (small) investment. Put sweat-drenched fitness gear on the cool-air-powered dryer to help prevent the buildup of mold. Many mold spores aren’t visible to the naked eye and can become airborne, which then becomes a problem for those allergic to mold.
For good measure, you can use a nasal spray to clear sinuses of any lingering irritants. Make sure your home feels cool with low humidity. When you’ve just completed a tough workout, you want to be able to recover in your own little sanctuary. Allergy and asthma sufferers may have special needs to accommodate their seasonal or sport-induced symptoms. But at the end of the day, those few adjustments aren’t nearly as burdensome as exercising outside is gratifying.