Allergies shouldn’t eliminate exercise

Allergies shouldn’t eliminate exercise

For the Fun of Fit

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.

According to, “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.

However, 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, 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.

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.

Best food to fuel workouts


Leimkuhler: Best food to fuel workouts

For the Fun of Fit

As my personal fitness routine has become less intense over the past few years, I’ve paid less attention to how I fuel my body prior to a workout. When I was in the thick of a competitive triathlon season or training for Ironman-distance races, nutrition was key. But after more than 10 years of training and racing, I was feeling burned out and my body needed a break.

I wanted to return to my fitness roots, to a time when I simply exercised for fun and to feel good. A time before GPS watches, rigid training schedules and liquid nutrition. I wanted to connect with a fitness community. When I was training, I rarely participated in group rides or runs because the distances were often too short, the pace too slow, or the timing didn’t fit my schedule. It was easier to simply go on my own. It was also lonelier.

I sometimes lamented the solitary nature of triathlon training and was glad that my husband and I often trained together on weekends.

With training no longer as all-consuming as a part time job, I’m not nearly as fit as I was a few years ago. Happiness is a trickier measure in this regard because, for me, fitness and happiness are directly proportionate.

I come from a long line of people with slow twitch muscle fibers and metabolisms to match. When I was training for Ironman-distance triathlons, I could eat whatever I wanted.

Now I have to be more conscious about my food choices — both in quality and quantity — and I’ve had to make peace with some of my clothes not fitting the way I’d like. The trade-off is that instead of spending long, solitary hours on my road bike, my daughter and I hit the trails together on our mountain bikes.

Instead of endless miles of pounding the pavement alone, I join dozens of fellow runners for Sunday morning trails runs.

Less exercise simply means I have to consume fewer calories. But eating is no longer the complex, calculated endeavor it used to be. Now, however, one of my daughters routinely comes home from school and asks, “What should I eat?” before she heads to track practice or begins a strength workout. For her, the short answer — for her quick, power workouts — is usually a bagel with peanut butter or a yogurt and banana.

For those who are where I once used to be — calculating the nutrition needed for multi-hour workouts, six days a week — the answer is more complex.

In general, the answer is this: A combination of complex and simple carbohydrates with a little protein thrown in is the ideal pre-workout fuel. The mix of carbs ensures a slow and steady release of energy throughout your workout and is easy to digest. Whole grains will help you go the distance, and a little bit of jam or honey adds more fuel and gives you an energy boost.

Ten-to-20 grams of quality protein, such as nut butter or eggs, helps to stabilize insulin levels and keeps you feeling satisfied longer.

My go-to pre-workout meal was typically a slice of toasted whole-grain bread topped with almond butter and honey. Adding a banana, “Nature’s Power Bar,” according to Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, “helps to keep nutrient levels high and increases potassium levels, which serves to maintain nerve and muscle function.”

And recommends adding a dash of cinnamon as well, noting that the spice “has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.”

But on race mornings, or whenever I had more than an hour prior to a workout, “power oatmeal,” as I referred to it, was always my meal of choice. I’d heat a half cup of whole grain old-fashioned or steel-cut oats and one cup of water in the microwave and add blueberries, ground flaxseed, honey, cinnamon, turmeric, almond butter, almond milk and nuts.

According to, “Oats are full of fiber, which means they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream,” keeping energy levels consistent. “Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates into energy.”

Adding fruit, which breaks down quickly, helps to keep you hydrated and energized. And though a small amount of protein is recommended, it helps to remember that “protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout,” the site notes, but it will be “used later to prevent muscle damage.”

These days, I often settle for a mug of tea before a workout and delay eating until after I finish. This practice is not recommended by which notes that eating before you exercise fuels your workout and maximizes your effort and results, and also prevents low blood sugar, “which leads to light-headedness and fatigue.”

Other recommended pre-workout meals include fruit smoothies, with a mixture of yogurt, fruit and almond milk or fruit juice, which are easy to make and consume, and rapidly digested; Greek yogurt with a fruit and nut-based trail mix; and bananas or apple slices, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, with almond butter.

However, be sure to avoid fatty foods pre-workout, which are hard to digest, leaving you feeling sluggish and prone to cramping. Raw sugar and candy are also ill-advised as the temporary sugar rush will inevitably lead to a mid-workout crash.

Finally, take care not to overeat, as eating too much can lead to “indigestion, sluggishness, nausea, and vomiting,” warns.

Pre-workout fueling is best regarded as a snack, not a meal.