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Exercise outdoors - even with allergies

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

If you have allergies, such as hayfever, exercise outdoors such as running, jogging, cycling or playing football in months when the pollen count is high may be best avoided.

That's because the faster you move through air, the more airborne pollens and mould spores strike your face, and are breathed-in, meaning a greater chance of an allergic reaction.

It is still important to keep fit despite the pollen in the air.

Options include swapping to indoor exercise, such as yoga, swimming, t’ai chi, stretching and weight training.

However, exercise outdoors may be better tolerated on days when the pollen forecast is low, or at times of day when there is less pollen in the air, such as late morning or in the afternoon.

Weather is key

The pollen seasons for particular plants are very consistent within each geographical region. Weather plays a large role in determining what the pollen count will be, both seasonally and daily. A change in temperature, wind conditions, humidity, rain or drizzle can change the pollen counts.

Usually, pollen counts are highest on warm, dry and breezy mornings and lowest on rainy, cooler days. The severity of your allergic reaction will generally mirror the rise and fall of the pollen count.

What can also make a difference is discovering your personal pollen tolerance level, the point at which your allergy symptoms begin. Pollen counts are tabulated by the number of pollen grains in a cubic metre of air. While experts say some people can be affected when a tree pollen count is as low as 15 for example, others might not experience symptoms until the count hits 1500 or above.

To discover what your personal tolerance level is, 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 experience problems.

If you're thinking that all you need to do to eliminate symptoms is choose an exercise site away from grass and trees, think again. Pollen can travel many miles.

However, the further 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 locations wisely.

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.

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, 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.

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