How to exercise with seasonal allergies

Spring can be an extremely difficult time for allergy-prone gym junkies, especially those who like to take their cardio outdoors where allergens abound. Allergy sufferers are also at a higher risk of exercise-induced asthma. 

That said, keeping up your training regimen does come with perks. While exercise doesn’t necessarily reduce the allergic reaction, it has been shown to improve immune health, helping to stave off viral and bacterial infections. This, coupled with improved lung and heart health and better blood circulation, can help dampen the wheeze over the long-term.

The question is not whether to exercise, but how and in what conditions. 

Here’s four things you need to know about exercising with seasonal allergies:

1. Intensity matters.

Dr Donald J. Dvorin, Co-founder of The Asthma Center, suggests finding a middle ground in terms of exercise intensity. And the research tends to agree. One small study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy Immunology looked at the benefits of both moderate (65–70 per cent of max heart rate for thirty minutes) and exhaustive exercise on hay fever sufferers. While both methods helped to reduce symptoms, the moderate exercise group took the cake in terms of improving overall immune function.

Keeping movements gentle when symptoms arrive will also reduce the risk of exasperating the issue.

Image: Shutterstock

‘For asthmatics, exercise can reduce wheezing and shortness of breath with an increase in endogenous epinephrine,’ says Dr Dvorin. ‘But if exposure is significant, the sensitive individual can still develop allergic and asthma symptoms.’

2. Nutrition plays a role. 

Take a look at your diet and hydration levels. A number of recent studies have indicated that particular foods can benefit immune and hormone health, and so allergy symptoms. For example, probiotics found in foods such as yoghurt have both anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy effects. One Italian study found that children with allergic rhinitis who drank fermented milk had fewer allergic episodes after 12 months, compared to participants who only took a placebo.

3. Keep breathing.

Exercise-induced asthma and allergy symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and unusual fatigue can usually be managed with a properly prescribed inhaler. Taken before your workout, it can act as a preventative. Try breathing through your nose rather than your mouth when you can. Be sure to track and record any symptoms so you can get a better understanding of your particular allergy triggers. Of course, always speak to your doctor first! 

4. Take it indoors.

If pollen counts are simply too high, it’s best to take your routine into the cool, filtered air of a gym. ‘It could be helpful to exercise indoors via treadmill or indoor bike to increase levels of adrenaline that help open the nasal passages and reduce post-nasal drip,’ says Dr Dvorin.

Interested in more tips for controlling the symptoms of your spring allergies? You can find them here

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About Katelyn Swallow 36 Articles
Katelyn Swallow is a journalist, editor and communications professional based in Perth. She is the Editor-in-Chief of STRONG Fitness Magazine Australia, the previous editor of Women's Health and Fitness magazine, and a regular contributor to STRONG in the US.