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How air pollution affects your workout

Whether you are a gold medalist or a daily jogger, David Redding, M.D., a Piedmont Healthcare allergist, has tips for staying safe amid city pollution, especially if you have asthma.  

Dr. Redding says multiple scientific studies have proven that people with asthma tend to have more symptoms on days when ozone levels are highest.

“The heat during summer months keeps air pollution hanging around close to the ground for us to breathe,” he explains. “Even with the same amount of traffic, ozone levels are worse in the summer.” While there is no concrete evidence that air pollution causes asthma, it has been proven that people with asthma have more symptoms on days when the air quality index is lower.

These symptoms can include decreased pulmonary function and increased airway inflammation.

“We also see increases in daily hospital admissions and hospital visits for respiratory causes, as well as excess mortality,” says Dr. Redding.

Keeping your outdoor workout safe

How can athletes or those who exercise outdoors protect themselves from air pollution without giving up their routine? Dr. Redding recommends checking the air quality index on days you plan to take your training outside. If the air quality is low, your best bet is to exercise indoors.

For exercisers with asthma, proper use of control medicine is a key to preventing serious complications.

“There are some highly competitive athletes who have asthma,” he says. “Medications for asthma are so good now that people are able to become elite athletes despite having the condition.”  

If you live in a high-traffic area, you need to take extra precautions for lung health. “In urban areas with heavy automobile traffic, asthmatics may need to be more vigilant about using daily control medicine,” says Dr. Redding. “I also recommend not running or jogging along a major road because you’re breathing in all kinds of car exhaust.”

To prevent asthma symptoms during exercise:

  • Carry your rescue inhaler in your pocket in case of an emergency.
  • Warm up before strenuous exercise with a fast walk or slow jog for five to 10 minutes. This will decrease your chances of having asthma symptoms when you exert yourself.
  • Cool down for 10 minutes after a workout. Asthma symptoms can flare up if you stop your workout suddenly.

If you use a medication for asthma and partake in strenuous exercise, your doctor may recommend you increase your dosage. Even if you do not suffer from lung issues, pay attention to your breathing and how you feel when exercising outdoors, especially in hot summer months.

For more information about asthma and lung health, visit Piedmont Atlanta Respiratory Services.

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