Is It Safe to Exercise Outside When the Air is Smoky?

August 10, 2017 by HealthyFamilies BC

Poor air quality is an issue in many parts of BC with wildfires burning and emitting smoke that is getting blown around much of the province. How do you know whether or not it’s safe to exercise outdoors?

Here is an informative article from Dr. Stellingwerff, director of Performance Solutions, Innovation and Research at the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific. In the article, Dr. Koehle, who is an Associate Professor at the UBC School of Kinesiology, gives some guidance:

“If you are being affected by the air quality, I think short, low intensity activity (i.e. bike commuting, drills, strength work etc.) is OK out of doors…Longer workouts are best modified and moved indoors. If at all possible, up the intensity and shorten the duration, and use treadmills, trainers, swimming pools, and strength equipment. Work on the neglected core, hip girdle and flexibility.”

Everybody responds differently to smoke. Use the Air Quality and Health Index (AQHI) map to find current and forecasted information for BC towns. This will help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health. Another resource is the AQHI Canada smartphone app, available for iPhone and Android. It informs you of the level of health risk of outdoor air quality and sends you alerts when air quality declines.

If you have underlying health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, or diabetes, use extra caution and limit outdoor activities while the smoke remains high. Pregnant women, children, and seniors are also at increased risk.

Bottom line: You can still participate in outdoor physical activity, but be aware of how your own body is responding and keep your respiration rate in mind. The harder you exercise, the more breaths per minute you will take. If you are breathing ten times harder than when at rest, you are inhaling ten times more smoke. If your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce activity.

If you have more questions, call the Qualified Exercise Professionals at Healthlink BC by dialling 8-1-1 and asking for the Physical Activity Services.

Author’s note: Today’s blog post was written in collaboration with Normand Richard with HealthLink BC; the Ministry of Health’s Physical Activity and Health Protection program areas; the Provincial Health Office; and it includes expertise from an article published by the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific.