Here’s what it’s like outside, late summer, in Michigan.
All of the varieties of goldenrod are coming into bloom. The thistles are in their glory, wretchedly beautiful purple loostrife is choking out the sturdy cattails, which are feeding warblers, who are carbing up for a long flight south. Local geese are in training. White-tail bucks are scraping the fuzz off their new antlers. A few leaves are turning. And ragweed and its cousins are coming into full bloom and having ragweedy conferences in their little ragweedy voices about how best to shoot their pollen straight up my nose. I feel them staring at me and pointing as I run by them each morning.
I’m filling you in on this in case it’s been awhile since you’ve been outside.
I know when I weighed the most, I avoided the late August outoors. My outdoor activities were limited to the artfully shortest routes from home to car to office building to car. No picnics, no strolls, no cookouts, no way. Too hot. Too chafey. Too sweaty. Too miserable.
As I breathed indoor, filtered air, I became steadily more sensitive to the outdoor, pollen-laced version. Whether it was a compromised immune system from the tax of my extra weight, my aging body, or natural weaknesses in my lungs, I can’t be sure, probably a combination, but I became mildly asthmatic on top of overweight and unable to bear the heat. So we closed our windows and doors, changed our filters a lot, cranked up the air conditioning, and avoided late August. And most of September. And well, pretty much this whole time until a good hard freeze. I am ashamed to say I have hoped for early frosts.
But not last year. And this fall season seems to promise good things, too.
While I can feel the pollen count rising, and that makes running a teensy bit more challenging, I am breathing very easily, thank you.
And a funny thing has happened over the past two years of exercising all summer long outdoors: I’ve become less sensitive to ragweed. No runny nose, itchy eyes, or that horrible, unreachable itch along the roof of my mouth.
Can it be that daily exposure during the worst pollen hours of the day helps to develop some tolerance for the stuff? Has fitness work and eating better helped to strengthen my body against allergic reactions? Has cutting back on foods I know I’m sensitive to given my body more play with the pollens? I dunno.
I’m not sure why it happened, but I am sure that one of the great unexpected side effects of this health kick of mine is that this season has been added back to my calendar. It is not a season of indoor imprisonment any longer.
I’m not advocating that you take your known allergies out for a walk among your known allergens. Leave that to fools like me. I am saying that if you’re looking for another motivator to stay on your program, read more, write more, track your calories, show up at the gym, here’s one: The health benefits build and stack, stack and build. You will be continuously delighted and surprised by your body’s response to continued good health.
And if you’re not allergy prone? How about going for a walk early in the morning before it gets hot, to see how your world is changing, and folding gently toward winter? (Or summer, or whatever your next season brings.) Really early morning walks, dawn walks, can not only reconnect you (and your kids?) to the passage of the seasons, but to your neighbors, too. It can give you a peaceful start to your day. A time to focus and think or to not think at all.
Life outdoors. It ain’t all bad.
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