Is it Healthy to Exercise in Wildfire Smoke?

Living in this area, we already have a strong tendency to overdo exercise. As health care practitioners, we see overuse injuries all the time. And you know you don’t always give your body time to rest and recover after a big event or to heal after an injury. How likely are we to temper our exercise enthusiasm during wildfire smoke, and how necessary is it really?

Is exercising outdoors when it is smoky doing us more harm than good?

Good question. And a bit of a complicated one.

What is in wildfire smoke that is dangerous?

First, lets talk about the type of particles released from wildfires. Most specifically the particle called PM2.5 — fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
The scary thing about PM2.5 particles is that they are easily breathed in, and once they hit our lungs they cause irritation and inflammation with sometimes serious repercussions.

Image Credit: Jen Burgess/IsolineStudios for BC Centre for Disease Control.

For most of us, we have mild symptoms such as:
• Itchy or watery eyes
• Sore throat
• Runny nose
• Mild cough
• Phlegm & mucus production
• Wheezing
• Headache

More serious symptoms can result such as:
• Shortness of breath
• Severe cough
• Dizziness
• Chest pain
• Heart palpitations

If you are experiencing these, get out of the smoke and please get medical attention if symptoms persists.

Children, the elderly and those with lung conditions are more affected by air quality and should be more careful to avoid exposure.

Children’s airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Source

How to Check Air Quality

Look at both the Air Quality Index (AQI) and specifically the PM2.5 measurement for your area. I use AirNow

Well, the Air Quality Index is not looking great, but I want to exercise. Consider these options:

Exercise indoors in a place with a good air filtration system, specifically with a HEPA filter.

Monitor the Air Quality and choose your time of day for exercise based on that.

Anecdotally, I notice less smoke here in the morning and like to get out then.

Do lower intensity exercise.

While doing strenuous exercise you breathe 10 times more air than while resting, thus increasing your exposure to these particles by 10 times. Less gasping for air equals less exposure. Source

Change your elevation.

Sometimes you can get above the smoke. Try a hike at the top of Teton Pass, off the Tram or your own high elevation favorite.  Keep in mind, it’s not always comforting to look down at the smoke below you.

Drink water and eat a diet that will help you combat the inflammation caused by the smoke.

Consider a respirator/ N95 mask.

If you work outside or for low intensity exercise, wear a respirator/ N95 mask. A well-fitted N95 can reduce PM2.5 exposure by 95% Personally, I can’t handle wearing one while running or biking, but despite the annoyance I can walk with one on. You can find them at the hardware store.

Dr Laura with N95 Respirator on a smoky day
Dr Laura sporting the N95 respirator on a smoky day

More harm than good exercising outside in wildfire smoke? Not necessarily.

Although this study was done in an urban area, measuring urban pollutants, the PM2.5 levels were considered, low intensity exercise, eg. commuting by bike or walking, seems to convey health benefits that outweigh the harm for healthy adults when the PM2.5 levels are under 95 μg/m3 and for lower concentrations, less than or equal to 22 μg/m3 the outlook is better.

“PM2.5 concentration (22 μg/m3) benefits of physical activity by far outweigh risks from air pollution even under the most extreme levels of active travel. In areas with PM2.5 concentrations of 100 μg/m3, harms would exceed benefits after 1 h 30 min of cycling per day or more than 10 h of walking per day.  For half an hour of cycling every day, the background PM2.5 concentration would need to be 95 μg/m3 to reach the tipping point.” Read the study

Bear in mind this study was done in urban areas with more pollution than wildfire smoke causing the increased PM2.5 and that they were commuting by bike, not charging up Ferrin’s or Putt-Putt.

The truth is we need more data to determine the risks vs benefits.

Want to be a citizen scientist and help contribute data to support research on the health impacts of wildfire smoke? Download the EPA’s Smoke Sense app. You can view air quality, see where fires are burning and report your smoke observations and health symptoms.

Thank you for reading. Play it safe out there!

Mountain Bike Injuries & How We Can Help

Mountain biking is a way of life for many in the Jackson Hole area.  It invokes a sense of adventure and sparks the adrenaline rush that we junkies all seek.  For many of us, this includes pushing our body and comfort level to the max, exposing us to the risk of injury. 

Let’s take a look at the common injuries associated with this great summertime sport.

1. Skin and soft tissue injuries are very common.  This includes everything from lacerations to sunburn.  Wearing the proper gear and a high SPF sunscreen does well to prevent exposure.

2. Traumatic injuries are also a risk.  Upper extremities injuries are more common; however, serious traumatic injuries can also involve the head, neck and spine.  Please get yourself checked out at the ER or by a trauma specialist if needed!  If you’ve been checked out at and cleared at the ER and still have lasting pain,  or maybe you didn’t bother at the time but might need some attention now, we can check for post-concussion symptoms and physical injuries.   As primary sports physicians, we can treat and refer as necessary to help you recover from injuries including concussions and whiplash.  

3. Chronic/Overuse injuries happen frequently when we are addicted to a sport.  On average, a mountain biker on an moderate trail will rotate the pedal around 5,000 times per hour!  Pedaling is almost exclusively a sagittal plane motion (forwards and backwards) .  Any kind of motion dysfunction in the lower extremity leading to motion in another plane (eg. lateral motion)  will increase susceptibility to chronic/overuse injury.  This could be a muscular imbalance, motion dysfunction or postural issue leading to knee pain, tendinopathies, foot pain, neck and shoulders issues, peripheral neuropathies and low back pain.

The doctors at JH Backcountry Health excel in identifying and correcting these dysfunctions.  We use functional motion analysis techniques to identify aberrant patterns and then correct using active release techniques, stretches, chiropractic adjustments and exercise prescriptions.  

As it reads on our home page, our mission is to provide the citizens of Jackson, WY and visitors to the area a means of maintaining their incredible active lifestyle. The proverbial “Go Big” no longer has to be followed by “or Go Home”.  Schedule an appointment today.  Let us help you continue to enjoy your adrenaline addiction!

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What is Fascia?

Addressing the Fascia in Myofascial Release

Fascia – what exactly is it? Fascia is a fibrous web-like tissue that covers our muscles, nerves and organs. Remember the last time you ate an orange? The peel is synonymous with our skin. Our muscles, nerves and organs equate to the actual fruit. The white material that separates the different orange slices, that is our fascia.

Quite a bit of research has gone into this area as of late, and we are beginning to understand just how important this anatomical structure is to our physiological function. Fascia, it turns out, is highly responsible for maintaining the structure of our muscles, joints, tendons and bones. Just like these other tissues, fascia can also be injured. It can stretch, fold, wrinkle, and even tear. When this happens, fascia tends to heal as scar tissue. This scar tissue is less pliable than normal fascial tissues as it contains a criss-crossing of fibrous tissues. Myofascial release, specifically the Active Release Techniques that we perform at JH Backcountry Health, helps to realign those fibers returning the fascia tissue to its normal function.

What kind of issues can fascial adhesions cause?

  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Plantar fasciitis and other foot pains
  • Nerve entrapments such as carpal tunnel
  • Limited mobility
  • Diminished athletic performance

So hop on our schedule to get these issues resolved!

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