Help - I'm allergic to exercise!
I always hated gym class. I was the little artsy kid, the nerdy writer; sports and exercise just never held any allure to me. To illustrate: in a misguided attempt to give sports a try, I briefly joined a soccer team when I was eight years old. All the other girls raced determinedly around the field in a blur, eyes fiercely on the ball, weaving in and out of the other players.
Me? I was the kid picking flowers amidst the choreographed chaos of the soccer field, doing my best to block out the cheers of the crowd so I could focus on daydreaming up ideas for my next story.
However, lately, I've been trying to be more conscious about my health - and I'm realizing that there's more to being healthy than just eating the right foods. There's another part of the equation that I simply can't ignore anymore, that dreaded "e" word: exercise.
My dad has been going to a gym five or six days a week lately, first thing in the morning. He always comes back ridiculously chipper and talking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Feel my rock-hahhd ahhhbs," he says, striking a muscle-man pose. (I wish I could say I was making this up.) Though his antics make me roll my eyes, seeing him so energetic and happy has made me think, hmm. Maybe there's something to this exercise thing.
So, I've agreed to join the same gym he goes to. But in the meantime, I've decided that I should really start taking regular walks in order to at least slightly prepare my body for the onslaught of movement and the endorphins that will soon take over.
A perfect, idyllic walk...almost
Yesterday evening, the weather was perfect: warm and sunny, but with a lovely cool breeze. Seizing the opportunity, I grabbed my MP3 player and headed over to a nearby trail and decided to walk a couple of miles. The trail was shaded and cool and, quite simply, perfect for walking and thinking about life.
But during the second half of the walk, my thinking shifted toward something decidedly less pleasant: the burning, itchy feeling that was spreading over my thighs and down my legs. I looked down and discovered that my legs were red and splotchy, and covered with little tiny raised bumps. I picked up the pace and hurried home, waving to the joggers and bikers as they passed and awkwardly bending down to scratch my legs when the trail was clear.
Once home, I scratched like mad and turned to trusty Google - "red itchy skin after exercise" - and found out that I'm not the only one. This is a real thing, and it's called:
Exercise (or cholinergic) urticaria - also called itchy legs syndrome, runner's itch, and yes, exercise allergy - occurs when the body produces an allergic response (usually pin-point sized itchy hives) to a change in body temperature. In my case, it was brought on by physical activity, but some people react to hot showers, spicy food, strong emotions, or even their own sweat. Some even get exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. Luckily, I don't seem to have anything that serious, but I'm going to be more vigilant about what causes my symptoms, in case I react to anything other than exercise.
I feel like I should make it clear that I'm not jumping to conclusions - this isn't the first time I've experienced such a reaction. This is just the first time I've ever researched what it means. Looking back, I can't even remember when I started having these reactions. I've always just kind of dealt with it as an annoying side effect of long walks, or summer bike rides, or...any exercise, really. It sounds silly now, but I suppose I always assumed that it happened to everyone, because of...I don't know...increased blood flow from physical movement? I don't know what I thought. Like I said, it sounds silly now.
So what now?
My eight-year-old self would have loved the excuse to get out of gym class and soccer. But unfortunately, my twenty-something self actually wants to get in shape...so what do I do?
From what I've read, taking an antihistamine before exercise can help prevent symptoms...but the idea of popping a Benadryl to make me nice and drowsy before working out seems a little bit counterintuitive to me. Oh well. I'm not going to let this stop me from working out. It might be annoying, but it's probably worth enduring the swelling and discomfort in order to enjoy the long-term benefits.
One source I read said that the long-term treatment is actually the same as the trigger: very, very regular exercise, as in every day or two. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but if so...geez, body, couldn't you have found a different way to tell me that I need to get in shape?!