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Exercise outdoors - even with allergies

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

When the weather is good enough, you probably can't wait to convert your stuffy indoor fitness routine to outside, breezy fun. Even if you've never exercised before, adding physical activity to your life can seem a lot more appealing when Mother Nature is your work-out partner.

Unfortunately, if you're one of the one in five people in the UK who have hayfever, just the thought of doing anything in the pollen-rich spring and summer air might start your sneezing, wheezing, nose running and eyes watering.

If this is the case for you, don't despair. Doctors who specialise in treating allergies say you can safely turn your exercise routines “inside out”, without sacrificing allergy relief. The first rule of seasonal survival? Avoid activities which increase the impact of a high pollen count.

Any exercise that involves a high degree of movement and significantly increases your respiratory rate could cause problems.

That's because the faster you move through air, the more airborne pollens and mould spores strike your face, and are inhaled , and ultimately the greater your chance of an allergic reaction. The activities to avoid, particularly on days when the pollen count is high and symptoms are flaring up, include running, jogging, cycling or playing football.

Work-outs that are a lot more ‘allergy friendly’ include yoga, swimming, t’ai chi, stretching and weight training, activities which don't involve a lot of huffing and puffing.

If you just can't live without your daily run or bike ride, experts suggest you plan to exercise when pollen counts are at their lowest. Pollen concentrations are usually highest early in the morning and in the late afternoon and early evening.

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.

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