Morning exercise offers many benefits, but for people with eczema, hitting the gym and then going to work presents a complex set of challenges. Being hot and sweating can lead to flare-ups. The breakfast you eat for post-workout energy can do more harm than good. And after an intense workout that strains your body, the stress of deadlines and other workplace pressures can also be a trigger.
Conclusion: If you like to start your workday at the gym, you need a smart strategy that will ward off eczema.
Enter Matt Knight, one of London’s most sought after fitness experts. Inspired by an Arnold Schwarzenegger book, Knight got serious about bodybuilding as a teenager (his training partner nicknamed him “Diesel”) and found instant success as a personal trainer in a gym in the early twenties. But the gym closed. On top of that, he suffered a shoulder injury which prevented him from exercising. His stress levels skyrocketed and soon Knight was dealing with severe eczema all over his body, including kicking feet that made it difficult to walk.
“I used to stay up at night scratching myself,” he recalls. “I had so much pain in the soles of my feet that they were cracked and bleeding, and I was taking antibiotics.”
Knight went from doctor to doctor but didn’t find much relief – until he found out for himself which foods triggered his flare-ups. When he changed what he ate, the flare-ups went down. During this time, Knight found ways to exercise without causing eczema, which allowed her to revive her career, which significantly reduced her stress levels.
Now in fantastic shape, he is eager to help others who want to train, go to work and avoid skin problems. Here, he offers three keys to managing your eczema at the gym, then heading out for a productive, itch-free workday.
1. Stay cool and clean
When Knight realized that constant patch testing wasn’t fixing the problem, he inquired about his condition, noted what seemed to be causing flare-ups, and tried to eliminate his personal triggers. Getting hot and sweaty is a big deal for him, but it’s unavoidable if you exercise, like Knight does, to get results. So he offered a post-workout solution: “What I do is be as fresh and clean as possible after a workout. I think a quick shower with cool water is ideal if you suffer from eczema aggravated by heat The key is not to let it go on too long.
The National Eczema Association recommends the “dip and seal” method:
- Shower for just 5-10 minutes, using a mild, soap-free cleanser.
- Gently dry your skin, leaving it slightly damp.
- Use any topical skin medication that has been prescribed for you.
- Within 3 minutes of getting out of the shower, apply moisturizer all over your body.
- Wait a few minutes before getting dressed to give your skin time to absorb the moisturizer.
“You don’t want to strip all the oils from your skin and leave your skin feeling dry,” says Knight.
2. Reboot your breakfast
While analyzing his diet, Knight realized that certain foods made his condition worse. “Make sure you keep inflammatory foods to a minimum,” he says. Although there’s no clear link between eczema and food allergies, avoiding foods that trigger an allergic reaction can reduce flare-ups, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Common allergies include peanuts, gluten, and alcohol. Knight recommends limiting red meat, dairy, whole grains, flour and sugar in your diet and eating more fish and vegetables. “Also pay attention to certain so-called diet foods,” he adds. “That whey protein shake and all those eggs can do a lot more harm than good.”
3. Improve your attitude
After leaving the gym, exercise the power of positive thinking. On the way to work, instead of worrying about a possible flare-up, remember that you did your best to prevent one. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that whatever happens during the day, you can handle it. Look for ways to reduce your stress at work. If you are a manager, for example, you could learn to delegate.
And never throw in the towel. “Whether it’s stress, environment or food, keep looking for the answer and don’t overlook any possibility,” says Knight, adding, “There is still answer. Don’t stop looking for it.