Black man exercising outdoors in the park

With gyms and pools closed during the coronavirus outbreak, many of us have taken to the great outdoors to get our daily exercise fix. Here’s how to boost your immunity and stay safe when the temperature heats up. 

Jogs, bike rides and sea swims not only improve your fitness – they also give a medically proven boost to your immunity. “Exercise boosts your circulation, so millions of white cells (immune cells) enter your bloodstream, enhancing your body’s surveillance so it can better detect harmful microorganisms,” explains Professor Mike Gleeson, Professor of Exercise Biochemistry at Loughborough.

But poor outdoor habits could leave you vulnerable to viruses, tummy bugs and skin infections. Even something as simple as not washing the handlebars of your bike or rubbing sweat from your eye while jogging could lead to infection. Here’s how to stay safe while exercising outside.


Avoid picking up germs 


Try not to come into contact with microbes, bacteria and viruses that cause illness in the first place. 

As well as regularly washing your hands, Professor Gleeson suggests some exercise-specific additions. Never rub your eyes, nose or mouth when you’re jogging or cycling – it’s the perfect way for germs to enter your body. Don’t share objects like bike pumps, tennis rackets or snacks with friends during workouts – and always clean your bike seat and handlebars with soapy water when you get home to get rid of bacteria.


Stay hydrated


Research shows that a person who doesn’t exercise needs 1.5 litres of water a day simply to stay hydrated. So if you’re working out and doing it outdoors in the heat, it’s even more important to drink enough water. 

Sip fluid throughout the day to keep your hydration levels steady. Also, rather than glugging back a pint just before you exercise, drink water when you’re thirsty during your workout. Finished? Good. Now’s the time to refill your stores with a big glass of iced water.


Exercise early or late in the day


Warmer temperatures will mean sweating more, but it’s important to know when it’s simply too hot to be outside. Before you head out on a run, cycle or hike, check the weather forecast so you can plan accordingly. Remember to take a water bottle so you can stay hydrated en route. 

Avoid exercising between 10am and 2pm – the hottest part of the day – and opt for the morning or early evening instead. Unless, of course, you’re suffering from hay fever – in which case, see below…


Use sunscreen


Loading up on SPF is vital when exercising outdoors. Remember that the risk of burning peaks around noon, when the sun is at its highest point. 

Apply a sunscreen with complete coverage every time you exercise outside, and use a sweat-resistant formula with an SPF of at least 30. UVLens is a handy app for regular outdoor exercisers, featuring a UV index forecast and sunscreen calculator to accurately estimate the risk of burning.


Keep hay fever at bay


Suffer from hay fever? Love exercising outdoors but hate the sneezing, itchy and watery eyes and stuffy nose that come with it? Luckily, there are some practical things you can do to tackle your symptoms. 

Pollen is usually at its highest levels first thing in the morning and early evening – so try exercising at lunchtime instead, when levels are lower (but don’t forget your SPF). 

Don a pair of wraparounds for outdoor exercise to help reduce the amount of pollen that gets into your eyes, and spread a barrier balm such as petroleum jelly around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollen

When you get in from a run, wash your hair to remove the pollen and when you wash your kit, don’t hang it outdoors where it can pick up pollen but dry it indoors instead. 


Use a tracking app


Load your phone with the right apps to keep you motivated, connect you with other outdoor exercisers and even suggest training plans. Strava is one of the best fitness trackers out there; it comes with social features and leaderboards as well as tracking your data such as running speed and distance travelled. Nike Run Club tracks pace, distance and time and features guided sessions and training plans tailored to your current fitness level. The NHS Couch to 5K app is perfect for beginners.


Be pollution-aware


When you exercise, you breathe more deeply than when you’re sedentary; a UK study advised against running next to busy roads and not to exercise when pollution is high (opt for early morning or evening workouts). Even small distances and barriers, like trees, next to high traffic areas can make a big difference in air quality. 

Check the air quality and forecast in your area here before setting out, so you can hit the road with confidence.

Ready to workout outside, enjoy the sunshine and get your sweat on? Then why not try this outdoor full-body bootcamp workout from Personal Trainer Jenny Francis!

As a Vitality member, you could get discounts on a range of fitness trackers. Available with eligible health insurance, life insurance and investments plans. Log in to Member Zone for the details.