Once you’re past cold and flu season, it’s smooth sailing on the health front—that is, until seasonal allergies kick in. And, if you’re training for a race or simply striving to get out of the gym for your workouts, all that sniffling, itching, and sneezing can put a real damper on your fitness goals.
But, with some planning, you can still head outdoors to exercise. Just open up the Aaptiv app and get your workout started.
Our experts explain how to know if you have seasonal allergies, which workouts are best for those suffering from allergies, and how to keep symptoms at bay.
What are seasonal allergies, and what might common symptoms look like?
“Seasonal allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to an allergen, such as pollen in the environment,” explains Dr. Alison Mitzner, a board-certified pediatrician in New York City.
“Seasonal allergies can occur at any time during the year, depending on the cause—for example, grass pollen in the spring or ragweed in the fall. However, spring is a common time for many to start with nasal congestion, sneezing, and other allergy symptoms due to the pollen in the air. These can include sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, itchy mouth or throat, and cough. Symptoms are typically mild, but may be more bothersome.”
According to Dr. Tania Elliott, an allergist and spokesperson for Flonase, allergies are your body’s abnormal response to something normally occurring in your environment. She says pollen is the main seasonal allergy: tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer, and weed and ragweed pollen in the fall. Additional symptoms may include facial pain and pressure, allergic shiners (dark circles under the eyes), sinus issues, headaches, and trouble sleeping.
Allergies can start at any age, too, says Dr. Mitzner, and some years may seem better or worse in terms of your symptoms. Overall, up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children can experience seasonal allergies.
How do you know if you have allergies?
If you think you might have allergies, Dr. Elliott suggests contacting an allergy specialist who can provide skin and blood tests to help diagnose exact issues. A skin test is the most common, adds Dr. Mitzner, where a small amount of allergen (such as pollen) is placed on your skin, and then the skin is pricked to see if a reaction happens.
Can seasonal allergies impact outdoor workouts? Why or why not?
Seasonal allergy symptoms can range drastically, says Aaptiv Trainer Katie Horwitch, from mildly annoying to unbearable. And, for those into high-intensity exercise, it may be difficult to breathe as deeply as is necessary to give your blood cells the oxygen they need to do their best work.
“Seasonal allergies can impact your outdoor workouts,” says Dr. Mitzner. “If it is a high pollen count, for example, your symptoms will increase these days and you may be miserable. It also can induce a wheeze in those with exercise-induced asthma. That said, it is actually good to continue to exercise even with seasonal allergies, and there are things you can do to help continue your workouts the best you can. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense—you just want to keep moving and keep the blood flowing.”
Because physical activity leads to a stronger blood flow, exercise can help move allergies quickly through the body, so they’re eliminated through the kidneys and the skin, says Dr. Mitzner. You certainly don’t want to overdo it, though, and the type of workout plays a role, too. Before exercising outdoors, Dr. Elliott says that you could check a pollen tracker app, like the Weather Channel’s Allergy Tracker, to see how high the pollen count is.
What are the best workouts to do outside, if you’re suffering from seasonal allergies?
“Stick to low- to mid-intensity workouts if you’ve got seasonal allergies, like walking, steady-state runs, or yoga,” says Horwitch. “Not all cardio is bad—in fact, aiming for 150 minutes of cardio per week can help improve your symptoms and overall health.”
Intense cardio or long runs may exacerbate symptoms, agrees Dr. Mitzner, so you may want to choose activities like outdoor yoga or swimming. Additionally, pre-workout stretching plus staying hydrated can help reduce allergic symptoms. You can also use allergy medication to prevent flare-ups, as well as treat symptoms when they arise, says Dr. Elliott. You can use this as a way to keep working out without needing to make modifications.
What can you do to avoid an allergy flare-up while exercising outdoors?
“Watch the weather,” says Dr. Mitzner. “You may want to stay indoors on dry windy days or on days [that] the weather is forecasting high pollen counts. It is also best to go outside during or after a rainy day since there is less pollen at that time. Sunglasses may help keep the pollen out of your eyes and prevent itchy watery eyes. Also, after an outdoor workout, a shower and changing your clothes helps since it can remove the pollen from your skin and hair.”
You may want to consider medications, like a decongestant or antihistamine, under the guidance of your doctor. “A nasal steroid spray takes about a week to kick in, but once it is built up in your system, it should keep allergy symptoms under control,” notes Dr. Elliott.
“I like this medication because it works locally in the nasal passages, exactly where allergy symptoms start, so you don’t have to worry about systemic side effects. If you need a little extra control, take a non-sedating antihistamine 30 minutes prior to your workout.”
Finally, make sure to avoid semi-enclosed areas where dust, pollen, and other allergens can get stuck, says Horwitch. “The most important tool in your toolkit is to know your body and know your triggers,” she continues.
“This is not the time to test your system and see how far you can push. It’s the time to do what you can, when you can. Follow the above-the-neck rule: if your symptoms occur above your neck, get your sweat on. If they occur below the neck, take it easy or give yourself a rest day.”
If you’re looking for the right workouts, Aaptiv’s selection of classes can help. We have stretching, strength training, cardio, yoga and more. There’s something for all fitness levels.