Exercising in Smoke Haze – What You Need to Know

With the bushfires unfortunately still very much active, and devastating, the effects of those bushfires can be easily seen in and around us here in Camberwell. The smoke haze has blanketed the city and there have been repeated warnings regarding the air quality. Those most at risk are those with existing breathing, or respiratory, conditions like asthma, as well as the elderly and the very young.

The timing of the fires has also impacted on those people who set new years resolutions, or goals, to get exercising and set good habits for themselves for the year ahead. Many new years’ resolutions have been put on hold because of the air quality, but we should know what the risks of exercising in smoke haze are, and how can you continue to stay active. We have outlined some of these things below.

What’s the harm?

When we exercise, we inhale much more deeply than what we do at rest. This means that we breathe more air into our lungs and, particularly in smoky conditions, we breathe in the fine particles that are contained within smoke haze.

These fine particles are not normally seen in normal, high quality air and can trigger asthma (even in the non-asthmatic population) or exacerbate asthma for those who have it already. For those with other respiratory conditions like emphysema it can make breathing, even at rest, more difficult.

Other symptoms that are common to experience if exercising in smoke haze include itchy or red eyes, scratchy feelings in the throat or chest and sometimes chest pain. If you are experiencing chest pain, it is always worthwhile consulting a medical professional to make sure you are not placing yourself at further risk.

Unfortunately, the long-term risks of exercising in smoke haze are poorly understood. Fortunately, we are not usually exposed to smoke haze for an extended period of time. This current fire season in Melbourne is unprecedented and we don’t have the long-term data to know the impacts. With repeated exposure, like year-on-year exposure to hazy conditions, some experts have even equated inhaling the air to smoking a cigarette.

What are unhealthy levels?


But, your exercise regime doesn’t need to drop off completely in times of smoke haze. Follow the following guidelines to ensure you can exercise as safely as you possibly can!

How to best manage your exercise in the haze:

  1. Check the air quality – there are a number of excellent websites that track air quality levels and tell you if it is safe to exercise outside. Click here for a map of Melbourne with hourly updates on air quality. AirVisual also have real-time updates and an iPhone compatible app.  
  2. Time your run – air quality has a tendency of varying throughout the day, so check out what the air quality is like, and if it is on a downward trend. While it can be unpredictable, it might give you a guideline as to when it is safe to head out.
  3. Use that gym membership – you’ve paid enough money for your gym membership in lovely, air-conditioned rooms, so no time like the present to use it! The air conditioners will help to filter out some of the unhelpful particles in the air. You can then run on the treadmill, lift weights or use a rowing machine to get your heart rate up – in a safe environment. 
  4. Got a door? Got a gym! So many of us have old gym equipment lying around in the garage or in the garden shed. No time like the present to dust it off and put it to use in the comfort of your own home. Light weights, theraband and Swiss balls can be a great way to set up an exercise circuit of your own in your living room. Unsure what to do? Search on YouTube for home workouts and you’ll have months of material to sift through.
  5. Take it easy – in conditions like smoke haze, breathing is more difficult for everyone, not just those with respiratory conditions. A rate of perceived exertion scale is a 0-10 scale that can be used to measure how hard you are working during exercise. A score of zero is no effort at all, 10/10 is the maximum you feel like you could possible work. Aim for a 6/10 or an intensity where you could just hold a conversation during the workout.

If you would like to speak with the team at Instinct Health about your options or advice, please feel free to reach out today.

While you’re here – don’t forget to check out our Pilates and Physiotherapy services.

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Exercising in Smoke Haze – What You Need to Know