Regular exercise makes your heart stronger and boosts your mood. But when you have eczema, exercise can leave your skin red, sensitive and itchy. That’s why many people with moderate to severe eczema think they have reason to skip exercise. The challenge of exercising with eczema is finding ways to avoid overheating, irritation and flareups. But you can find the balance of exercising and keeping your body temperature regulated.
Exercise Benefits for Eczema!
- Exercise can help lower stress – one of the triggers for eczema flareups
- Exercise increases the blood flow closer to the skin’s surface, keeping it well-nourished and flushing out waste products from the cells
- Exercise improves your overall health and well being1
You just need to tweak your exercise routine to ensure you are getting the benefits of exercise while protecting your skin from overheating and excess sweat.
Enjoy Exercise with Eczema
Taking a walk on a weekend morning, a bike ride after work or a dance class is a great way to give your body a workout and to sweat. Sweating is actually a good thing for the body – it helps moderate our temperature and cool the surface of the skin.2 Our sweat is mostly made up of water, with urea, lactate and minerals such as sodium.2 For people with eczema, exercise can further dry out the skin because of loss of fluids and the sodium in sweat can dehydrate, sting and irritate the skin. That means scratching when the temperature on the skin surface begins to rise.
You can counteract this!
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise – this will replace the water lost when sweating and keep the skin hydrated.
- Choose the right clothing – your workout clothes should be light and breathable, so sweat can evaporate off your body, and loose enough so you can release heat and not have the clothes rub against your skin. Generally, cotton is the softest fabric. Cut out tags. You can even wear them inside out, so the seams do not rub on your skin. Many workout items are made from synthetics that are designed to wick away sweat, but you need to try different types since these may be too tight or not be breathable enough for your skin.
- Take regular breaks – It’s a good idea to rest, rehydrate and cool down, especially if you feel a flare coming on. It’s not cheating to moderate the intensity of your exercise! You may also want to keep re-freezable ice or gel packs with you to treat any swelling or injuries, and also to cool your skin and calm the itch. Keep a towel with you and wipe off your sweat during exercise.
- No hot showers – you want to wash off your sweat, but not dry out your skin after exercising. So, take a warm, not a hot shower, and gradually reduce the temperature to make it cooler. Use your own products that you know do not irritate your skin.
- Moisturize – it is also important to hydrate and protect your skin after exercising and showering. Eczema means a damaged skin barrier, which makes the skin more sensitive and it also makes it harder for your skin to retain water, leading to dry itchy skin. Use your prescription or over the counter cream, ointment or lotion right after showering. Choose products with the highest oil content since they tend not to burn and are good at sealing in the moisture you need.3
Eczema: The Gym or a Swim?
There is no ideal exercise for eczema and you may want to try a variety of exercise routines to see which are the least irritating to your skin. Even walking or gardening has exercise benefits and may not cause as much sweating as running or biking. There are also low-impact exercises such as Pilates and yoga which improve mobility ad strengthen muscles as well as reduce stress. If your usual exercises are aggravating your eczema, think outside your gym.
Although the chlorine that is used to disinfect swimming pools can irritate some people with eczema, others find it has the same positive effect as taking a bleach bath. If you decide to try swimming, be sure to wear goggles and moisturize before you get in the pool. You may also want to explore local places that have salt water swimming pools, which some find less irritating. With either kind of pool, rinse off well when you are done swimming and be sure to apply more moisturizer.
Don’t let your eczema stop you from enjoying exercise! It’s good for you. Just be patient while you find the right routine and intensity for you and your skin.