Last week, Patty Jo Struve grabbed her bike, put on a buff, and set off for a 20-mile ride despite the smoke.
“The buff thing is, it’s helpful,” she said. “It won’t filter everything out, but when I take it off I can say, ‘Wow, it’s huge. It’s night and day. ‘ ”
It was a calculated choice for Struve, 65, who has asthma and heart disease. She knows that exercise in smoke is unhealthy. On the other hand, she trains for a 24-hour mountain bike race and hates being locked up.
“I really limited what I did (that day),” she said. “I was on the road for 2 hours. And then I’ll be in my house the rest of the time. “
This is a calculation that many outdoor sports enthusiasts and enthusiasts will have to face this summer. With unhealthy smoke pervading the northwestern part of the week, such decisions are “a little difficult,” said Dr. Darryl Potyk, director of medical education at the University of Washington School of Medicine at Spokane and an outdoor enthusiast himself.
“As we all know, exercise helps us both mentally and physically, but now we need to weigh the dangers of inhaling smoke (carbon monoxide and particulate matter) and those of COVID,” he said in an email.
Penny Schwyn, an avid mountain biker and outdoor recreational athlete, has a stricter exclusion zone. She observes the AQI measurement like a hawk and basically stops all outdoor activities if the air is unhealthy.
“The smoke is really bad for your lungs and I don’t know if people know about it,” she said.
It’s a harsh reality. In fact, Schwyn and her husband started copying the whole month of August.
“I wonder if we have to be like snowbirds except smoke somewhere else,” she said. “It’s hard – we get grumpy, we get sensitive.”
Wildfire smoke contains particles 1/20 the width of a strand of hair. These particles are small enough to penetrate the deepest depths of our lungs and cause inflammation, he said.
To help when and where it is safe to be outside, the Environmental Protection Agency developed the Air Quality Index, which rates the severity of air pollution from various pollutants, including forest fire smoke.
“This inflammation can make breathing worse in people with an underlying lung disease, but it can also cause new symptoms in people who have previously had no symptoms,” he said. “We don’t know much about the interplay between inhaling this smoky air and the SARS-CoV-2 virus – but there is concern, but not much evidence yet, that the inflammation caused by inhaling particles is a predisposition to COVID- Infection, especially since we are confronted with an increased prevalence of the delta variant. “
Which puts us all in a difficult position. Go outside and risk inflaming your lungs and (maybe) increasing your susceptibility to COVID-19. Stay indoors and you may be exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Personally, Potyk said he avoided heavy exercise outside in the smoke.
“For myself, an otherwise healthy 62-year-old, this means that I don’t want to exercise outside, and when I make an effort I don’t want to exert myself and start breathing hard / deeper,” he said. “I can walk outside for a short time, but I don’t recommend running or cycling in this weather.”
Wearing a mask, whether it’s while exercising in a gym or in smoky air, is an option if the quality of the mask is good enough to filter out the small particles, he said, although he personally finds it “heavy (and messy)”.
Buffs don’t filter particles that small.
Struve is aware of this and adapts accordingly. She goes on shorter or early morning rides, both good ways to limit smoke inhalation.
But at the end of the day, it’s a calculated risk she’s taken.
“I really believe if you take precautions and wear some kind of face covering (it’s okay),” she said. “I’m pretty driven.”
Tips for smoky outdoor recreation
Here are some tips and tricks for smoky outdoor recreation:
1) Keep an eye on the air quality. Check airnow.gov or download the EPA app.
2) Consider staying inside and resting, as annoying as that may be.
3) When you go outside, avoid strenuous activities and long exposure to smoke.
4) Go in the morning when the air quality is generally better.