Exercise vs. Allergies
All the Right Moves
Seasonal allergies plague more than 26 million Americans, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, with numbers on the rise in recent years. This is due in part to a dramatic increase in the amount of airborne pollen, a possible byproduct of climate change. Environmental and lifestyle stress, inadequate nutrition and weakened immune systems are also factors, leaving many feeling too miserable to engage in physical activities.
Yet, research shows that exercise can help ease allergy symptoms and lessen severity. A survey of 2,000 allergy sufferers sponsored by the UK National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit showed those that exercised the most had the mildest symptoms.
More Exercise, Less Discomfort
Boosting heart rate through aerobic activities such as running, walking, jumping rope, treadmill routines, tennis and team sports like volleyball or basketball seems to offer anti-allergy benefits. Vitamin C can also help. Researchers from the Faculty of Sports Science at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand, found that 70 percent of participants that took a vitamin C supplement and ran for half an hour experienced decreased nasal congestion and sneezing.
“Exercising regularly creates a cumulative effect in the body, helps speed up metabolism and improves immunity, so you could find even less allergies occurring over time,” says Stephanie Mansour, fitness expert and former allergy sufferer from Chicago. “I used to get allergy shots for a runny nose and headaches during certain times of the year, but personally transformed my allergies through expanding my lungs and chest and balancing out my nervous system.”
~Stephanie Mansour, fitness expert
The American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy recommends gentler forms of exercise, and cautions against vigorous workouts such as Crossfit or long runs that can be counterproductive and exacerbate allergy flare-ups. Mansour recommends yoga, Pilates, walking or weight training—especially when congestion is a factor.
Try Some Yoga
Mansour, a certified yoga instructor, attests to the benefits of the practice. To ease the symptoms of allergies, she recommends yoga both for its physical effects and its breath benefits. “Yoga can also help bring equilibrium to the nervous system and help the body relax. When the body is in a healthy balance and relaxed, it’s more effective at warding off things like infection or allergies.”
Registered nurse and yoga instructor Kristin Brien, of New York City, concurs. “A yoga practice trains and strengthens the vagal nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system—rest and digest mode—and turns off the inflammatory response,” Brien says. “When we are under chronic stress, our nervous systems react as though our bodies are under constant threat, thus making some of us more susceptible to hypersensitive reactions to offending seasonal antigens like pollen and ragweed.”
Yoga practitioners across the board recommend inverted poses such as the plow, shoulder stand and downward facing dog to relieve allergy-related congestion. While yoga can be beneficial, inverted poses should be avoided by anyone with high blood pressure, glaucoma or retinal issues due to increased pressure in the blood vessels of the head, and some experts emphasize that allergy sufferers and asthmatics should avoid hot yoga and other demanding forms during flare-ups. A gentle approach goes a long way.
For a simple workout plan and an anti-inflammatory food guide to help combat allergies, join Stephanie Mansour’s free 21-Day Challenge.
Yoga 101: Yoga Poses for Sinus Pressure
Yoga Poses for Sinus Congestion
Ideally, Brien recommends asanas that anyone can do, including legs up the wall, supported bridge pose, supported reclined goddess pose and child’s pose.
No matter the type of exercise, warming up can play a key factor. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, stretching before activity and boosting heart rate helps to maximize exercise and its symptom-reducing effects.
Create a Healthy Space
Lessening the body’s burden by making small changes in living or workout space can also optimize the benefits of exercise. Brien, an allergy sufferer and asthmatic, recommends using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce circulating allergens and also wiping down all surfaces, including yoga mats, floors, window sills and vents. During drier, colder times of the year, Mansour recommends using a humidifier to add moisture to the air and improve breathing.
Exercise may not cure seasonal allergies, but it can lessen related symptoms, along with effecting a more balanced nervous system and better overall health.
Marlaina Donato is the author of several books and a composer.
Helpful Workout Tips
Before and After:
• Use a nasal saline spray beforehand.
• Change clothes and shower after outdoor exercise; wash workout clothing exposed to pollens.
• Wraparound sunglasses to avoid allergens getting into eyes
• A breathable mask to filter allergens during outdoor activity
• In the morning when pollen and mold counts are highest
• When it’s warm, dry or windy outside
• On busy roads where exhaust fumes can irritate bronchial and nasal passages
• When tired, sick or under significant stress; all three states prompt the immune system to react more severely to allergens
• Don’t exercise for at least two hours after an allergy shot to avoid significant side effects.
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