Allercy and Asthma Health
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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Hitting the Gym To Get in Shape? Do It Without Aggravating Your Asthma and Allergies

by Thomas J. Kallstrom, MBA, RRT

If you have asthma or allergies, you know you need to exercise to stay healthy, but heading outdoors for a jog or a bike ride can be problematic no matter the season. While the winter months may be free from all that pollen flying around in the spring and fall, the cold air can leave people gasping for breath as well. And it’s been so cold in some parts of the country this year as to make outdoor exercise virtually impossible, anyway.

So, you head to the gym, thinking you’ll not only keep warm, you’ll also be avoiding all the perils waiting for you outside. Not so fast—while gyms can be great places for people with asthma and allergies to work out, they are far from allergy free. The good news is you can work around the potential triggers and still get the exercise you need. Here are some tips to pack in your gym bag.

Watch out for EIB: Some people with asthma are prone to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, a condition also known as “EIB” that can lead to chest tightness and breathing difficulties. You can help avoid EIB by using your inhaler before exercising. Warming up and cooling down helps too, as does breathing through your nose rather than your mouth.

Think twice before diving in: Swimming has long been considered a good form of exercise for people with asthma. But some pools are so heavily chlorinated that they undo all the good that comes from the exercise. Too much chlorination can cause irritation ranging from red eyes to a rash, and some people also experience trouble breathing. Talk with your doctor or respiratory therapist before embarking on a swimming regimen, especially if you will be swimming in an indoor pool.

What’s that smell? With all the sweating that goes on in the average gym, gym owners have to use disinfectants on the equipment to keep from spreading diseases. Unfortunately, many of these products contain allergy-inducing odors, chemicals, or volatile organic compounds. It’s usually a good idea to use your allergy or asthma medication before you work out if you are sensitive to any of these components.

Beware of latex mats: Yoga and other exercise classes often require the use of a mat, but many of the mats supplied by gyms are made of latex. So if you know you are sensitive to latex, invest in your own latex-free mat and be sure to bring it with you every time you go.

Get the right outfit: These days the gym is full of people making a fashion statement with their workout attire, and many of these clothing items are made of polyester and nylon to help wick away moisture from the skin. Some people, however, are sensitive to these synthetic materials. If that’s you, look for gym clothes made of spandex instead. You’ll still get the comfy stretch but with less risk of irritation.

Check the labels: If you have food allergies, be sure to read the labels on those energy bars and protein shakes available in many gyms before you indulge. They often contain nuts, wheat, eggs, soy, or milk—common foods that trigger allergies.

Know when to quit: Since the common cold can trigger an asthma attack, it might also be wise to take it easy if you are feeling under the weather. You can still work out—just don’t push yourself as far as you would if you were in tip-top shape.

Following these simple tips can help ensure your next trip to the gym will be doing your body the good that you intended—not making your asthma and allergies worse.

Thomas Kallstrom is a registered respiratory therapist and chief operating officer of the American Association for Respiratory Care. 

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