What problems are associated with exercise in low air quality?
"One of the primary risks especially during aerobic activity is that you are inhaling more air and breathing it deeply into the lungs," Da Rulk says. "Because you are more likely to breathe through your mouth during exercise, the air you breathe in generally bypasses your nasal passages, which normally filter airborne pollution particles."
This can be a particular issue for those with pre-existing health concerns.
"Health conditions most notably affected by poor air quality (including that caused by excess smoke) are those to do with the respiratory and cardiovascular systems – our lungs and heart," Dr Kennedy explains. "Conditions such as asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung conditions have the potential to be worsened and triggered as we breath in air of poor quality - this can lead to trouble breathing, acute asthma attacks and low oxygen levels."
Are some types of exercise more risky?
"Higher intensity aerobic training will increase your heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure significantly," Da Rulk says. "A lower intensity training protocol would be best if you cannot train indoors."
What are the signs you might be struggling with air quality?
Considering most exercise comes with a bit of huffing and puffing, how can you tell when the smoke haze might be affecting you adversely?
"Whether we're exercising or not, any symptoms that involve a sensation of struggling to breathe, significant coughing, tightness in the chest or increasing wheeze should trigger urgent medical attention," Dr Kennedy says. "Similarly, feelings of increasing tiredness or low energy in someone with known respiratory or heart health issues (or risk factors such as smoking) should signal a check in with a health professional. On the heart health side of things, can sense of chest tightness, chest/arm/jaw pain, dizziness, faintness or trouble breathing would warrant urgent medical attention."
At a less severe level, Dr Kennedy says that you're likely to find your fitness levels drop with exposure.
"Poor air quality can often also trigger local irritation of our eyes, airways (i.e. nose, throat) and potentially the skin – so you might notice watering/red eyes or a dry/sore throat particularly when exercising or running out doors," he adds. "This should usually settle and not warrant significant worry – but if it's severe or doesn't improve then a check up with your local doctor wouldn't go amiss."
What should you do if you want exercise while air quality is low?
"If you have a significant lung or heart condition, then it would be best to discuss this with your doctor - particularly if you've noticed an impact on your breathing or health with air quality being low," Dr Kennedy says. "For those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, exercising with your inhaler or other treatment options alongside would be highly recommended." That's whether your indoors or out.
"For those with health conditions sensitive to periods of poor air quality, or who've had clear impacts on their symptoms from it, then adjusting your exercise routine might be necessary."
Here are Da Rulk's top tips to consider when exercising outdoors in poor air quality.
1. Time of day
"Air pollution is generally lowest in the early morning and evening hours."
2. Exercise location
"Try avoiding exercising too close to the source of the pollution/smoke. Try to temporarily migrate your training indoors if that is not an option."
3. Know your medical history
"If you have sensitive lungs or a pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular condition and cannot train indoors, consult with your physician if you are planning a new exercise program."
4. Watch for symptoms
"If you experience headaches, irritation of the ears, nose or throat, or worsening asthma symptoms stop training and consult your physician."
5. Duration and intensity of exercise
"Adjust how long and hard you are training when air pollution is poor."
6. Adjust your training
"Try and migrate your training indoors and possibly transition from Aerobic and HIIT Training to more Anaerobic Strength training protocols."
7. Warm Up
"Warm up your lungs with some breathing exercises before training to prepare your respiratory and cardiovascular systems for your workout."
8. Keep an eye on the air quality
"Weather, winds and especially wild fires can change very quickly and unexpectedly so be mindful of the outdoor conditions prior to beginning."
9. Don’t stop working out
"Even though poor air quality and pollution can create inflammatory reactions within our body, the benefits of exercise can help mitigate those reactions and get us feeling better. Make the necessary adjustments and take the required precautions but remember that exercise seems to be more powerful than air pollution."
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