Beware of Air Quality When Exercising

Patient Expert

One day after visiting with family, I planned to take my dog for a walk. However, midway through our dinner together, I started having the beginnings of a headache (which I rarely get). By the end of the meal, my head felt really fuzzy.  I decided it would be a good idea to take it easy (although my miniature schnauzer looked sad when I didn't get her leash out).

What’s behind this? I have a theory – the Saharan Air Layer, an atmospheric phenomena in which sand and dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa travel across the Atlantic Ocean. It turns out that the Saharan Air Layer is a common issue in the summer. This video from NASA shows the progression of this dust, in this case to the Amazon Basin.

Exercise Care

While common, this layer of atmospheric dust does pose a health risk. Researchers have found that these episodes can result in increased asthma attacks and headaches. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take precautions during this time frame when the Saharan Air Layer is in the atmosphere. (The dust is expected to thin out over the next few days around states and nations located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.)

Until then, I’d recommend the following:

  • Limit outdoor exercise and activity - This isn’t the best time to be exercising outdoors (or doing things that require major exertion, like mowing the grass). Therefore, if at all possible, limit your outdoor time and chores until later in the week when the dust clears out of the atmosphere.  This is especially important if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Lower your intensity level – As I learned, even if you are indoors, you may experience the effects of this dust. Therefore, I’d encourage you to lower your intensity levels even while exercising indoors.
  • If you start feeling strange, stop your activity – While I’m sure you already know this, I want to reiterate that this sand and dust can really result in serious physical harm if you have an underlying condition. Therefore, be extra vigilant in monitoring how you feel while exercising.

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Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Doganay, H., et al. (2009). African Dust-Laden Atmospheric Conditions Active the Trigeminovascular System. Cephalagia.

Fradella, Z. (2015). Saharan Dust Making for Hazy Skies Across Southwest Louisiana.