1. What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the airways in the lung, leading to inflammation and spasm of the breathing tubes. This makes it difficult for the person affected with asthma to breathe properly and causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma increases the sensitivity of the lungs to things such as cold and/or dry air, pollen and pollution. At resting state a person is normally breathing through his/her nose which allows the air to enter the nose to become moist and warm while the tiny hair present in the nose filter the air, getting rid of any dust particles or unwanted items. During exercise or performing intense physical activities, the person, unknowingly, breathes through his mouth which can possibly trigger asthma symptoms.
2. Exercising With Asthma
Because intense physical activity can trigger asthma, the general assumption is that exercising is dangerous for people with asthma. This is, however, untrue, and not exercising leads to them getting out of shape and this is what is actually bad for asthma. The benefits of exercising cannot be denied and those with asthma should not be deprived of these benefits of staying fit. Well-controlled asthma means that you should carry on with your daily activities and not have to give up exercising just because you fear an asthma attack. In fact, exercising can even help with controlling asthma, eventually leading to a decreased need for medication. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews published a review of 19 studies and concluded that exercise for asthma is safe and it helps in making the heart and lungs fit while also improving the quality of life.
Other benefits include improving the lung capacity because of which the person is better able to manage his/her asthma, especially during exercise or other physical activities. Exercise also helps to coping with the daily chores because it increases stamina. Besides, once the person starts exercising he becomes confident about day to day activities and worries less about asthma since he is more able to monitor and manage the condition.
Taking regular medications, following the advice of the doctor, making sure to stay away from asthma triggers and observing your symptoms can easily help asthma patients in dealing with the issue, allowing them to indulge in physical exercises.
3. Recommended Exercises For People With Asthma
While those people who have asthma can definitely exercise, there are certain factors they need to keep in mind. These people should preferably go for exercises involving short, intermittent periods of exertion. Such exercises include games like volleyball, baseball and wrestling and activities like gymnastics. These activities are better tolerated by such people.
Among the best exercises for people with asthma one is swimming. It is a strong endurance activity and people having asthma can very well tolerate it. The basic reason behind swimming being popular among asthma patients is that they are able to take in warm and moist air, helping combat asthma symptoms, and because the activity helps with building up muscles used for breathing. Biking and aerobics are other well tolerated activities.
Read more: Benefits of breathing exercises
Walking is also a very good exercise for patients with asthma, and it has been found that walking actually helps with asthma control besides improving the fitness.
Another recommended exercise for asthma patients is yoga due to breath control involved with the exercise. According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, yoga training for more than 10 weeks led to a considerably better quality of life scores for females having mild to moderate asthma. The best way to exercise is to start small and at a low intensity.
Baseball is good for people with asthma because continuous exertion is not a requirement of this sport. Activities in which the heart and breathing rate stay constant for around 5-6 minutes are suitable for people with asthma as compared to activities which require the person to stop and start suddenly.
Biking is a great activity too for the people with asthma. However, this can easily turn out to be dangerous as well. Care should be taken to keep the pace leisurely because increasing it too much could lead to catastrophic results, the reason being the rapid breathing which makes the airways dry and triggers asthma. Then there are kinds of biking to look out for. Normal biking is fine, but mountain biking could possibly cause a problem because climbing steep hills is difficult and involves heavy breathing, leading to an asthma attack.
Golfing and racquet sports are other activities suitable for people with asthma because they allow the player to control over their breathing pattern and the pace of the game and do not involve intense bursts of activity. These do, however, require the person to rest regularly and keep themselves hydrated, thus it is a good idea to have a water bottle handy and nearby.
4. Exercises To Avoid
While there is no exercise that asthma patients should consider off-limits to them, there are certain activities that actually trigger asthma symptoms and it is better to perform those lightly or not at all. Cold weather sports such as skiing and ice hockey are one such kind of activities, mainly dangerous due to the lungs receiving cold air and causing breathing problems.
Soccer, basketball and long distance running are other examples of asthma triggering sports, the reason here being their requirement of high endurance. These activities require the player to constantly exert himself and be on a move. Thus, people with asthma should not get involved in such activities to avoid complications later on.
Scuba diving is another activity that people with asthma should avoid. A diver gets to breathe drier than normal air which is one issue. There are a lot of risks associated with diving even with normal people, the reason being the pressure changes underwater; with an increase in the depth of the water there is an increase in the pressure of the body as well and thus there is a lot of pressure on the lungs. When coming back up the person is required to let go of the air and breathe out. However, this becomes difficult if the airways are blocked which can cause the lungs to burst, making them collapse. An air bubble may also be formed which could then move to the heart or brain, leading to disastrous consequences.
5. Preparing To Do Exercise For Asthma
If asthma symptoms are causing too much trouble, making the person want to quit exercising, it is time for him to approach his/her doctor and discuss the issue. More often than not there is a need to change the asthma action plan just a bit to be able to cope with the symptoms and carry on with the activity. And a doctor will be able to help with this.
If a person with asthma is just starting to exercise he/she should first talk to his/her doctor for suggestions and advice. The doctor will be better able to give suggestions about the activities to pursue in accordance with the condition of the person and the degree to which asthma may be a problem. An asthma action plan can be outlined which the person should then follow. This plan would include the dos and donts of exercising and any preparations the person should make prior to starting the exercise for asthma.
It may be important for the person to take pre-exercise asthma medicine – such as inhaled bronchodilators –but this would be determined by the doctor.
An inhaler should be kept handy in case the person needs it during the exercise.
Warm up exercises and cool down period is extremely necessary for people with asthma. They have to start slow to make sure that they do not strain their lungs too much all of a sudden. Cool down is important, again for the same reason. The exercise for asthma should be gradually decreased rather than completely stopping all of sudden since immediate changes in the breathing pattern could pose a problem.
While it may not be always possible and the person may not realize it, he/she should try to breathe through the nose instead of mouth as much as possible.
In case of cold weather the person should preferably exercise indoors or wear a mask over his mouth and nose. This is to avoid the entry of cold air into the lungs since that is one of the triggers of asthma.
Exercising outdoors should also be avoided during high pollen season and when there is too much air pollution.
Exercising should be done at a minimum or not at all when the person is suffering from any viral infection, such as cold or flu.
The person should not exert himself beyond the point that is appropriate for him/her. Tiring the body too much is going to harm more than benefit.
6. Asthma Attack During Exercise
Sometimes, in spite of following the instructions of the doctor and going through all the preparations prior to starting the activity, an asthma attack may be triggered during exercise. The person should always have the necessary items and medications ready in case of such a situation. A rescue inhaler should be handy and ready to be used right after getting the asthma symptoms.
Care should be taken to completely relieve the symptoms before starting to exercise again. The person should make sure that he/she is able and ready to continue with the activity. Once he/she is confident that the symptoms have subsided he/she can resume the exercise for asthma. However, in case the symptoms return the person is supposed to immediately stop the activity and not resume till the next day. He/she should reuse the asthma kit aid that has been suggested to them by their doctor.
In case the symptoms do not subside and the person does not get any relief from the inhaler immediate medical assistance should be sought.
7. Famous Athletes With Asthma
If all the above facts were not enough to convince you that person with asthma can also indulge in physical activities and exercise for asthma patients, here are some professional athletes for whom their asthma condition was not a deterrent to their sport career.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a basketball and track athlete at UCLA. After her diagnosis with severe asthma she kept her condition hidden from her coaches because she was afraid she would have to give up the sport. However, later on she managed to get guidance and learned to manage the condition. She managed it so well that she has won three Olympic gold medals and one silver medal, besides getting the title of the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century.
Amy Van Dyken is another example. She was diagnosed with severe asthma at a very young age and at her doctors’ suggestions she started getting involved with sports to make her lungs strong. Her main sport was swimming and in spite of being an asthma patient she managed to succeed and won six gold medals in Olympics.
Tom Dolan is another swimmer who has asthma. The condition, however, did not stop him from gaining success and winning a medal in Olympics besides other achievements.
Jerome Bettis is a professional football player and has played for NFL. He was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 15. Passionate about football, he was afraid of having to give it up due to his condition but his parents’ motivation and doctors’ advices he managed to keep up with his plans.
Peter Vanderkaay is a gold medalist of the 2008 Beijing Games. This is in spite of the fact that he had started getting asthma symptoms since the age of 10. Medications and a proper action plan help him to keep up with his passion.
8. Asthma Cannot Limit You
As is clear from the above examples, asthma is not something that cannot be dealt with. Those diagnosed with asthma can definitely carry on with the physical activities they like to indulge in provided they seek their doctor’s advice regarding how to manage their condition and what to do in case of an attack during exercise. The main thing is to control asthma, prevent attacks, avoid triggers and take care to properly treat the symptoms.