Working out and physical exercise are healthy habits that are ideally part of every person’s lifestyle. However, not every environment makes this possible. More specifically, health-conscious and active individuals often have a hard time maintaining a workout routine when there’s poor air quality. Understanding this pollution and how to handle the poor air quality that can come with it – such as with wildfires – is crucial to maintaining your healthy habits.  

Understanding Air Quality

The air we breathe contains various particles. These are often harmless, but in certain scenarios, their volume can spike and cause poor air quality. These conditions include pollution, dust storms, wildfires, and other factors.

The air quality health index (AQHI) tells us what the current air quality risks are and how they impact our health. It’s calculated using the concentrations of 3 air pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. The AQHI puts out a rating from 1 to 10 with corresponding health risks, from low to moderate, to high and very high (10+ rating). During very smoky times, the fine particulate matter can raise health concerns to very high levels and make working out – or even being outdoors – riskier.

Understand your risk factors during these times of high exposure and be prepared by staying informed through the WeatherCAN app.

Exercising in Bad Air Quality

Exercising in conditions such as those that occur with wildfire pollution can be harmful. Vigorous activity causes you to breathe harder and faster, which makes you inhale particles potentially quicker.

When air quality is not on your side, especially for long durations of time, what should you do when it comes to getting your workout in?

  • Check Air Quality. First, be sure to check your air quality score in your region when you suspect air pollution to be high. Knowing the risk will help you plan your day.
  • Know When to Stay Inside. Don’t take your workouts outside when the AQHI is over a safe point. Plan indoor sweat sessions that can be performed in a more controlled environment. From yoga to Pilates to resistance training – there are many ways to bring your workout inside and suit your needs.
  • Use Air Purifiers. When inside, make use of air purifiers. These filters help to capture mold, pollen, allergens, viruses and smoke. There are many resources available online to help you choose the right purifier. Purification systems use filters to help lower the concentration of harmful pollutants in your home and can come in portable formats, too.
  • Check With Your Local Gyms. During the pandemic, many gyms upgraded their air filtration systems with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters as a precautionary measure. Ask them what systems they have installed and consider a gym workout instead.
  • Understand the Best Times to Be Outside. If the AQHI is high, consider staying inside for your workout. But if the index is moderate or low, know when it’s safest to be outside. Early morning workouts in the city often help to avoid car pollution, for example. Seasonal conditions can affect when air pollution builds up as well; know when to be outside and when to take your jog to a treadmill by checking your local air quality resources.
  • Don’t Overexert Yourself. It’s sensible to keep your workout to a more moderate pace and level during times of low air quality. Bring plenty of water and consider wearing a mask if conditions are poor and you must be outdoors.
  • Be Cautious. If you experience any symptoms of chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing or fatigue after being exposed to poor air quality, seek medical attention.

At the end of the day (or at the beginning!) it’s most important to be informed and be prepared. Keep yourself updated of the local air quality health index levels and have a back-up plan in case you need to pivot indoors. Remember, a work-out is only part of your healthy lifestyle; protecting your health and wellness is just as important.

If you’re looking to start a fitness routine, read our tips on how to incorporate at-home fitness into your day.