What You Need to Know About Your Nose and Exercise
By Gillian Scobie, snot disturber
Do you ever have this problem? You’re out cycling—doing something very healthy—and your nose keeps running, or dripping, as the case may be. Ack, do I have any Kleenex with me? Don’t worry—you’re not alone. When I googled “exercise runny nose,” I got over 3 million hits.
So I did a little research. Of course, there’s a name for it. According to the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, over 56 percent of us suffer from so-called exercise induced rhinitis. Sure, exercise is good for us. But it’s a stressor too. Not in the sense of distress but of eustress—good stress. Would you be surprised to learn that your nose produces between one and two quarts, or one and two litres of mucus a day? And that’s just sitting still. When you exercise, your metabolism increases, causing the mucous membranes in your nose to produce even more mucus, especially when you exercise vigorously. Some of those excess secretions will run out your nose. It’s just your body’s way of draining. An indelicate little byproduct of exercise.
So What’s With all That Mucus?
Well, the inside of your nose is lined with a thin mucous membrane and thousands of tiny hairlike things called cilia that filter, warm, and moisten the air you breathe. Michael M. Johns III, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Emory University, explains that “mucus is incredibly important for our bodies. It’s the oil in the engine. Without mucus, the engine seizes.” Mucus contains antibodies that help the body recognize invaders like bacteria, viruses, and dirt; enzymes to kill those invaders; and protein to make the mucus gooey and stringy and very inhospitable.
Your nose produces mucus continuously to fight infections and clean and moisturize the sinuses. And what this increase in mucous is supposed to do is soak up any particles of bacteria, dust and dirt you might inhale. It also helps prevent foreign objects from entering the lungs while breathing. So it makes sense that when you breathe harder, your body will produce more mucus to keep up with it.
In cold weather, it’s just about impossible to stop your nose from running. Mucus and secretion production increases in your nose to warm and humidify the cold dry air you’re breathing in. Tiny blood vessels in your nose open wider to help warm up the air coming in. But then that extra blood flow leads to more mucus production. Drip drip drip. You can tell if your mucus is just exercise induced because it will be thin and runny.
The Aging Nose
So does this get better as you get older? Sadly, if you’re over 40, your nose starts to go through a few changes. (Isn’t there an exercise for this?) Brace yourself. Your nose lengthens, and the tip begins to droop because the supporting cartilage gets weaker. That restricts air through your nose, causing a sort of constant sinus drainage, called, annoyingly, geriatric rhinitis. Also, your mucous membranes shrink and dry with age, reducing the amount of mucus produced and making it thicker. Why this leads to more mucus, not less, is a mystery to me.
Whatever. In the meantime, you need to get rid of that mucus. You can do the socially acceptable thing and just make sure you bring a lot of Kleenex with you on your rides. Or . . .
The Snot Rocket
You can make sure no one’s looking and perform the time-honoured farmer’s blow aka the snot rocket. Do not do this if you’re in the middle or front of a group! Here are your instructions:
1. Move one hand to the top of your handlebars.
2. Place one finger of the other hand over your right nostril.
3. Turn your head, to make sure you don’t hit yourself.
4. Check for other cyclists. Don’t hit them, either.
5. Blow hard and short. There should be enough force behind the blow to push the detritus away from your body, so the speed of your bike will carry you past it.
6. Switch hands. Repeat the process on the other side.
7. Clean up. Kleenex (or glove) time.
I tried this myself, though not on a bike. Yes, it’s effective. I would add, make sure there aren’t any cars around when you do this because you’re, momentarily at least, taking your eyes off the road (not to mention grossing them out).
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