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Leimkuhler: Allergies shouldn't eliminate exercise

Spring is my favorite season. The days grow warmer and longer, and the brown, dormant landscape bursts into color. The grass turns bright green, the trees bud with new pink and white leaves, and the forsythia bushes bloom vibrant yellow. It is a season of growth and renewal, a promise of the summer days to come. I open my windows wide, don shorts and flip flops, and greet the season with open arms and a happy heart.

But, for some, spring is “hay fever” season, when the abundance of pollen and other allergens results in a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy throat, watery eyes and fatigue.

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According to aafa.org, “An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. The substances that cause allergic reactions are allergens. When someone has allergies, their immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies respond to allergens. The symptoms that result are an allergic reaction.”

For many, suffering from allergies has been a lifelong battle. However, those who managed to escape childhood and adolescent allergies are not immune. Some people — typically sometime between the twenties and forties, rather than later years when the immune system begins to weaken — will experience adult-onset allergies.

"As the immune system weakens, the hyper-allergic reaction also weakens," says Dr. Anthony J. Weido, president of Allergy & Asthma Associates in Houston, Texas, and the Gulf Coast area.

However, everydayhealth.com notes, “Most people who are diagnosed with allergies as adults probably had an allergic episode earlier in life that they don't remember.”

But having allergies does not mean you have to ditch your exercise routine. According to fitnessandwellnessnews.com, studies have proven that regular exercise can help contain allergies and manage the symptoms.

“Physical activity results in a strong blood flow. This allows allergens to be moved quickly through the body and eliminated via the kidneys and skin,” the site explains.

Conversely, lack of exercise results in a sluggish blood flow. “Stagnant allergens gather in a fixed position, which begins to destroy the tissues around them. Constant movement of the allergens through the blood stream prevents these delicate tissues from becoming inflamed,” fitnessandwellnessnews.com adds.

Workouts don’t have to be especially intense or challenging to get results; simply moving and getting the blood flowing can help to rid your body of allergens. In fact, The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology emphasizes overdoing physical activity could exacerbate symptoms rather than help.

Pre-workout use of decongestants, antihistamines, saline spray, or a neti pot can help with clear nasal-breathing during workouts, which is important as the nose is the body’s filter, preventing allergens and pollutants from entering the lungs and airways. Ten minutes of stretching and pre-workout warm ups can also reduce allergic symptoms.

Exercising indoors is an alternative for people who suffer from seasonal allergies or environmental irritants. Swimming, aqua jogging, water aerobics and water polo are ideal. In the absence of a specific chlorine allergy, the warm air associated with aquatic environments is gentle on the lungs and helps to clear sinuses.

Yoga and Pilates, which focuses on deep, proper breathing techniques is also helpful to strengthen the heart and lungs, and strength-training or interval workouts are particularly suited for those who suffer from asthma.

But if you love the outdoors and prefer to exercise outside despite seasonal allergens, check the daily pollen counts and avoid outdoor activities during peak times. Consider using a mask to filter pollen and pollution, and wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from allergens as well as harmful ultraviolet rays.

Finally, be sure to shower immediately after exercising outdoors to remove pollen and other environmental irritants from your hair and skin.

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