No doubt many of us are shooing off the last remnants of winter and rejoicing that (according to the calendar, at least) it's finally spring. Good riddance, bulky coats and stuffy gyms. Welcome, T-shirts and jogs outside, where it's lukewarm, flowery and full of people who are equally jazzed to be walking without shivering. Hallelujah.
But then – behold, a familiar enemy.
“Now the sun is higher in the sky, you're craving exercise, and all of a sudden, your spring allergies hit,” says Lisa Lynn, a New York-based fitness trainer. “And it's gigantic. Now you have a new reason not to exercise, because the allergies make you feel exhausted, and some of the symptoms, like stuffy nose and irritated eyes, can be debilitating enough to make you not want to move.”
[See: Pharmacists' Top Recommended Nasal Decongestants.]
Lynn, who specializes in performance nutrition and is perhaps best known for being Martha Stewart's personal trainer for 13 years, is no stranger to intrusive seasonal allergies. She won't accept sniffing and sneezing as excuses to miss out on outdoor exercise – not after you've been cooped up in a gym (or in front of Netflix) for the last few months. Below, Lynn shares advice for reaping the benefits of exercise and fresh air while avoiding the worst of spring allergies.
Know your enemy. For seasonal allergy sufferers, the enemy – the thing that makes you sniff and sneeze – is pollen, and time of day and weather can affect how much of it you'll encounter. The pollen count (the amount of pollen in the air) is typically highest in the mornings, so save your outdoor workouts for the afternoon or evening. (If you're running at night, remember to sport reflective gear for visibility.) Pollen is usually at its peak levels during warm, dry windy weather and at its lowest during cool, damp weather, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Weather channels and websites, including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's National Allergy Bureau website, will show pollen counts for your area so you know when to take your workout outside and when to stick to the gym.
Cover your hair. Lynn says it's key to wear a hat so pollen doesn't stick to your hair. This is especially important for people who don't wash their hair every day, she says. “You want to cover [your head] so you don't get all that stuff in your hair and let it continually irritate you.” She points out that a billed hat, like a baseball cap, can play double duty by protecting your hair from irritants and providing sun protection.
[Read: A Survival Guide to Spring Allergy Season.]
Shield your eyes. Wear sport goggles, regular eyeglasses with an attachable band securing them to your head or sunglasses while exercising out doors. Lynn explains: “If the pollen never gets in your eyes, you never really have to worry about it.“
Get clean. We hope for your sake (and for whomever is in smelling range) that you're bathing after exercising. This step is even more important for allergy sufferers, because the pollen can stick to their bodies and irritate them long after their venture outside. If you've decided to exercise at night, wash thoroughly before hitting the hay. Your allergy symptoms will get worse, Lynn says, “if you jump into bed with pollen and allergy irritants on your body.”
Discuss your medicines. Lynn, who suffers from allergies herself, says some antihistamines can make you feel tired. Work with your pharmacist or doctor to discuss the side effects of your allergy medicines and when you should take them. This way, you can avoid taking a medicine that will drag you down minutes before you plan to exercise.
[See: Pharmacists' Top Recommended Cough, Cold and Allergy Medicines.]
Go back to the basics. While this advice is relevant any time of year, it's worth repeating. For one, drink “buckets of water,” Lynn says, pointing out that “it's great to be in a predicament where we're going to sweat again.” Feel your best while exercising by eating a balanced diet that's high in fruits and vegetables. There's some evidence suggesting the vitamin C in plant-based foods may help reduce allergy symptoms, and even if that's not the case, “they'll just make you feel good, because they're natural sources of energy,” Lynn says.
And as you begin spring cleaning, now may be a good time to check in with the state of your gym shoes, Lynn says. Replace shoes as they become worn out, although experts have different ideas on when shoes officially become kaput. The point: Don't wait until your shoes are visibly tattered, or you may end up hurting yourself.