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Exercising with Atopic Dermatitis

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on May 19, 2016Written by Megan Baird on May 19, 2016
exercising with atopic dermatitis

You likely already know that exercising can help alleviate stress, boost your mood, strengthen your heart, and improve your overall health and well-being. But when you have atopic dermatitis (AD), all the sweat inducing, heat building workouts you do can leave you with red, itchy skin.

Luckily there are things you can do to make your workouts more comfortable. By making smart decisions about your workout routine and your clothing, you can have a comfortable workout that doesn’t aggravate your skin.

Reducing sweat and heat exposure

The body sweats to regulate body temperature so there’s no avoiding it. As sweat evaporates from your skin, your body begins to dehydrate and your skin is left with a salty residue. The more sweat that evaporates, the drier your skin becomes.

Paying attention to how much you’re sweating and doing your best to minimize this can help prevent any unnecessary dryness. Keep a towel with you as you work out so that you can wipe away sweat as it accumulates.

Heat is another known trigger for AD, and unfortunately, it’s not just summer heat. Your body temperature rises when you engage in intense exercise. Even in an air-conditioned gym, it’s hard to avoid heat during a good workout.

It’s important to stay ahead of the curve on overheating. Try taking frequent breaks during your workout to allow your body to cool down. Keep a water bottle with you during workouts so that it’s easier to stay hydrated, and take frequent water breaks to help you cool down.

Dressing right

There are many new man-made clothing materials that are designed to wick moisture away from the skin. Unfortunately, these synthetic wicking materials aren’t a great option for people with eczema or AD. The texture of the synthetic material can feel rough and irritate your skin.

Most runners and outdoor sports enthusiasts recommend wool socks for similar moisture wicking capabilities. But, as with synthetics, wool is too harsh for most people that have AD.

Breathable, 100 percent cotton is best for T-shirts, undergarments, and socks. Cotton is a natural fabric that allows more air to pass through than newer “tech” clothing.

Fit is equally important. Tight clothing will lock in sweat and heat. Keep the fit loose enough that the material doesn’t rub against your skin during your workout.

Even if you’re self-conscious about your AD, resist the urge to overdress. Shorts are better than pants, when possible, especially if you’re prone to flare-ups in the folds of your knees. Keeping more skin exposed will help you stay cooler and give you the opportunity to wipe away sweat as you exercise.

Exercise routines

If you have a favorite routine, by all means stick with it. Try to make slight modifications that keep flare-ups under control.

But if you’re looking to try something different to help your AD, consider one (or more) of these workouts.

Strength training

Strength training comes in many forms. You can train with weights, use exercise machines, or use your own bodyweight. Depending on the style of routine you choose, resistance training can help you build muscle, get stronger, and burn fat.

If you have AD, you’ll want to take advantage of the built in breaks. Almost any strength training program calls for resting at least 60 seconds between sets. In this time, as your body recovers, you can drink some water and dry off any sweat.

You can also start a strength training routine from the comforts of an air-conditioned gym or even your own home. These make great options for summer when you might not want to be training in the heat.

You can even utilize an efficient form of strength training called circuit training to get in a good cardio workout. It’s a great full-body workout that builds strength while keeping your heart healthy. You can do circuit training at home with little more than a pair of dumbbells. Just remember to take a little extra rest between circuits to cool down.

Walking

Taking a daily walk is a great way to stay active with lower impact on your joints and less sweat than when running. You can walk outside when the weather is nice or use a treadmill indoors.

You’re less likely to overheat when walking than other more strenuous forms of exercise. You can carry a bottle of water with you and even a small towel in case you start to sweat.

If you’re walking on a sunny day, wear a hat and/or sunscreen. Be sure to find a sunscreen or sunblock that’s free of irritating chemicals.

Try to walk for about 30 minutes each day if it’s your primary form of exercise.

Swimming

Indoor swimming is an excellent full-body workout that keeps your body from overheating. You also don’t have to worry about sweat lingering on your skin when you’re in the pool.

The main concern for swimmers is highly chlorinated public pools. If chlorine irritates your skin, try to shower immediately after swimming. Most gyms and public pools offer access to showers. Getting the chlorine off your skin as soon as possible will help reduce irritation.

Takeaway

You should never have to give up on the health benefits of exercise just because you have AD. There are many ways to minimize sweat and heat exposure while still getting in a good workout. Pack your gym bag with a small towel and a big bottle of ice water and try one of these three workout routines soon.

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