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New guidelines on exercising in bushfire smoke published

17 November 2023

The AIS has released a position statement for high performance sport providing guidance around exercise when bushfire smoke is present as the nation prepares for a warm, dry Spring with increased risk of bushfires.

A cricket oval under an orange smoke haze.

Current public health advice regarding exercise during bushfires is usually aimed at high-risk groups, however high performance athletes who don’t fall in this category can also be at increased risk.

The new guidelines provide athletes and their teams with tools to help them evaluate whether it is safe to exercise.

The risk posed to athletes is related to exposure levels and susceptibility. Some main indicators to consider are an athlete’s past medical history, the air quality measured through PM 2.5 levels (PM 2.5 being the small particles usually found in smoke), and the type of exercise that the athlete is looking to undertake.

AIS Chief Medical Officer and co-author of the position statement Dr David Hughes AM said that athletes should weigh up the risk versus the reward.

“Athletes should keep in mind that PM 2.5 particle concentration can change quite rapidly over short periods of time and over short distances. Waiting until PM 2.5 levels have dropped may spare the athlete the experience of respiratory difficulties, which could potentially disrupt multiple training sessions.”

Changing the type of training planned when there is smoke present can also minimise the potential risk.

“High-intensity aerobic work will increase tidal volume [the amount of air moved through the lungs] by a factor of 10, meaning that one hour of exercise at this level, will expose an athlete to the same level of PM 2.5 particles as 10 hours at rest,” Dr Hughes said.

Sports are advised to have an agreed protocol in place for modifying training sessions according to levels of bushfire smoke and to pre-identify those with a history of respiratory issues.

“Preparation is key in mitigating health risks,” added Dr Hughes.

The Exercise in Bushfire Smoke for High Performance Athletes Position Statement is endorsed by the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians (ACSEP) and Sport Medicine Australia (SMA) and is available on the AIS Smoke Pollution and Exercise webpage.

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