For people who like to exercise outdoors, the smoky haze from a nearby wildfire may make them wonder if it’s safe to continue their regular running, biking, or sports routines. While heavy smoke is cause for concern, there are precautions you can take to safely exercise outdoors or indoors when wildfire smoke reduces air quality in your area. Let’s look at how to exercise safely and stay active and healthy during wildfires.
What Causes Hazy Air from Wildland Fires?
Smoke from wildfires comprises particulate matter, gases, and chemicals released from the burning vegetation and buildings. The main components of wildfire smoke include:
- Particulate matter – Tiny particles suspended in the air that reduce visibility. These minuscule smoke particles can penetrate deep into the lungs.
- Gases – Fires release carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and other gases.
- Chemicals – Smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxins formed during incomplete burning.
When wildland fires burn, they pump all these pollutants into the air. Winds can carry the smoke far distances, causing hazy conditions and health impacts even in areas far from the fire’s location.
How Wildfire Smoke Affects Health?
The pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs and cause immediate effects as well as chronic health problems with repeated exposure:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation – Stinging eyes, runny nose, coughing, and sore throat.
- Wheezing and chest tightness – Smoke can induce wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
- Asthma complications – Wildfire smoke can worsen asthma symptoms by irritating airways.
- Increased risk of lung disease – Long-term smoke exposure may raise the chances of developing COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.
- Heart problems – Smoke may increase the risk of irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke.
Children, older adults, and people with existing heart and lung conditions are at higher risk for smoke-related health problems. But even healthy people are advised to limit smoke exposure.
How To Assess Local Air Quality Before Exercising?
Before exercising in smoky wildfire conditions, check your local air quality index (AQI) for particulate matter. AirNow.gov provides AQI reports by zip code. AQI levels in the Orange range (101-150) may be okay for shorter outdoor exercise for healthy people. Red levels (151-200) indicate unhealthy air quality – consider moving exercise indoors or limiting duration. Purple and Maroon levels (201-300+) signal very unhealthy to hazardous air – avoid outdoor exercise.
How To Exercise Safely Outdoors in Wildland Fire Smoke Conditions?
If you decide to exercise outdoors when the smoke has blown into your area, take precautions to protect your lungs. Wear an N95 mask to filter out smoke particles as you exercise. You can opt for shorter, high-intensity outdoor workouts to limit your smoke exposure. Stop exercising if you experience coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or other smoke-related symptoms. Schedule outdoor exercise earlier when smoke may be lighter before building up. Exercise away from major roads to avoid traffic emissions. Pay attention to wind forecasts so you can avoid exercising downwind from fires.
Precautions for Exercising Indoors During Wildfire
When smoke makes working out outdoors risky, bring your workout inside. Here are some tips to lower smoke exposure indoors: Ensure the space has good airflow and filtered air. Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter to capture smoke particles. Keep windows and doors closed so smoke can’t seep in. Adjust your workout intensity and listen to your body to avoid breathing too hard. Apps, stationary bikes, treadmills and fans can help you exercise safely inside when smoke fills the outside air.
Alternative Exercise Options During Wildfire Smoke
Heavy smoke can linger for days or weeks, forcing changes to your regular workout routine. Some ways to stay active include: Home workout apps and videos – yoga, pilates and cardio apps offer smoke-free options. Stationary bikes or treadmills are great for cardio exercise inside. Local gyms with well-filtered air and AC, Swimming – water aerobics or laps are ideal since chlorine clears respiratory irritation.
When to Stop Exercising Outdoors?
Stop outdoor exercise immediately and go inside if you experience coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or breathing problems. Avoid outdoor exercise completely when air quality is hazardous. People with asthma, COPD or other lung conditions should talk to their doctor about safely working out when smoke fills the air.
How To Staying Healthy Despite Wildfire and Hazy Air?
You may need to put your regular outdoor workouts on hold when wildland fire smoke passes through your area. But you can still focus on your health during smoky times. Exercise inside or go back outside once the smoke clears and the air improves. Emphasise healthy eating and drinking enough water. Pay attention to sleep, managing stress and overall well-being. Check local air quality reports to know when it’s safe to exercise outside again.
Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles, gases, and chemicals, making exercising outdoors risky. Listen to health warnings and check local air quality reports to assess smoke conditions. Take proper precautions like wearing an N95 mask, limiting your workout intensity and duration, and opting for indoor exercise with filtered air when the air quality is poor. Pay attention to any smoke-related symptoms you experience, and modify your workout routine until the air clears and conditions improve for longer, healthier sessions outdoors. With some flexibility, you can still prioritise your fitness and lung health during wildfire.