Eczema and Exercise: How to Enjoy an Active Lifestyle
We all know that we should lead an active lifestyle for optimum health. It’s important for heart health, controlling your weight, reducing stress, and releasing endorphins which are important for reducing stress levels. But if you suffer from eczema, you might worry about how it’s possible to manage exercise without exacerbating your skin condition?
It’s really a delicate balance. It’s important not to let eczema restrict our quality of life, so the key is to find ways to exercise without overheating and to manage sweat. You’ll need to play a game of adaptation and compromise.
The Sweat Conundrum
Sweating occurs as part of our body’s way of moderating our body temperature. If you start to overheat, your body sweats in order to help cool you off. When the sweat evaporates, it causes the surface of the skin to cool. Unfortunately, the moisture, the makeup of sweat itself, and the evaporation process causes skin irritation.
Perspiration is made up of water, minerals, sodium, urea, and lactate. The loss of fluids and the sodium in the sweat dehydrates the skin and causes a sting, itchiness, and general irritation. However, there are ways to prepare for this reaction that can help.
And lots of it. The more water you drink, the more diluted that the minerals and sodium in your sweat will be and will cause less irritation. Drink lots of water before, during, and after exercise. It’s a good idea to drink lots of water anyways because anyone with eczema has inherently drier skin. Stay hydrated as much as possible.
Applying emollients to the skin can protect your skin in advance of losing moisture during exercise. Moisturize before you exercise, approximately an hour before exercise. Then moisturize again after you rinse off to replace any moisture lost during physical activity.
Choose Strategic Clothing
Picking the right exercise clothing will minimize skin irritation when the body heats up. Though there are a lot of close fitting exercise garments on the market as well as ‘moisture wicking’ fabrics that are meant to draw moisture away from the skin, these weren’t designed with eczema in mind. Avoid spandex, particularly around your waistline. Light, breathable fabrics are ideal. Eczema sufferers are better off wearing 100% tencel® or 100% cotton clothing including loose fitting t-shirts, but of course personal choice is important so choose what’s right for you. Just make sure that the fabric doesn’t rub or scratch during activity.
Be Sensitive to Your Skin During Exertion
If you feel yourself overheating or beginning to sweat, take a break. Use the break to drink some water, cool down, and perhaps do a little stretching. It’s important to stay realistic about your skin’s condition while you’re exercising and to adapt accordingly.
Regulating our body temperature is really important. Extreme temperatures are one of the leading causes of eczema flares, so avoiding extreme heat or extreme cold is important.
Keep a towel on hand to dry off periodically. Pat dry rather than wiping dry; patting is less likely to irritate your eczema. Nowadays there are a variety of cooling towels available on the market that are great for regulating your body temperature.
Skip the Hot Showers & Baths
Many gyms have hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas along with their shower facilities. While the heat can be great for muscles, it’s terrible for eczema. It’s a good idea to rinse off so that sweat doesn’t dry on the skin, but do so quickly using a moderate temperature and towel dry and moisturize immediately afterwards. It’s also better to use your own tried, tested, and true soaps and moisturizers rather than what might be provided at your gym. Put your favorite products into travel sized containers to take along with you.
Experiment with your Exercise Routine
Finding the right form of exercise might take some experimentation. If one form of exercise, like running, causes too much friction of your clothing against your skin, try something different like biking. There isn’t any one type of exercise that will be better over another. It’s all about finding what works best for you.
Weight training is important for your muscles and bone density and will cause less friction and overheating than cardiovascular exercises, so alternate your cardio workouts with strength training. Don’t underestimate the power of walking; it’s great exercise and won’t cause you to overheat as much as some other more demanding forms of exercise. Tai Chi, Pilates, and yoga (though not hot yoga) are all terrific for the body and also the mind and spirit.
What About Swimming?
Naturally, many eczema sufferers worry about chlorine. While many people do react to the chlorine, many others find the chlorine to have a positive effect on the skin, much like a bleach bath. When you begin swimming, start with a shorter period of time spent in the pool to see how you react. Gradually increase your time in the pool after your first visit. Use lots of moisturizer and emollient after swimming.
Exercise itself is important for stress management, and stress itself is proven to have a negative effect on eczema. By exercising, you’ll improve your mood which will be helpful for your skin. There are so many benefits to exercise; with a little trial and error you can find ways to exercise while balancing your body temperature and managing your perspiration. It’s a delicate game of adaptation and compromise, but one definitely worth playing.