Asthma and exercise!

Do you have asthma and feel like exercise is the LAST thing you want to do? I mean wouldn’t it just make it harder to breathe? Or maybe you are fine until you start exercising, and then your chest tightens and you decide to stop because it will only get worse if you keep exercising? Exercise and asthma really can AND SHOULD  go together.

Just ask Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner Kersee who has been very outspoken about her asthma. jackiejoynerkersee

Nearly 15% of Americans have asthma. There are many things that can trigger an attack – air pollutants, allergens, smoke, stress, cats and dogs, cold air, infections, and also exercise. I have had asthma for over 20 years. There are many things that trigger it for me  – even exercise. I know what it feels like to go for a run outside and have a car drive by and spew out fumes that immediately make my chest tighten. Running is hard enough as it is, but throw in a good bronchospasm and it gets nearly impossible!

80-90% of allergic asthmatics experience symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA). Although indoor exercise can also trigger asthma, exercising outside (especially in the cold) can make symptoms even worse because we are mainly breathing in air through our mouths. As we breathe, this air becomes drier  and cooler causing a bronchospasm (airway constriction in the lungs).

Check out this diagram and see why we are wheezing when we exercise:


Some exercises are better for ashmatics than others. The best one is swimming because of  the warm moist air in the pool. Also, some experts believe the horizontal position of swimming gets rid of mucous in the lungs.  Also, exercise that involves intervals and short but intense bursts seem to benefit asthmatics. However, cold weather sports such  as hockey, cross-country skiing and even running seem to trigger more asthma flairs.

Thankfully, no matter what sport you choose, there are ways you can prevent asthma attacks. Obviously if you are on medication, you need to be good about taking it. However, a proper warm-up and cool-down have been proven effective at reducing asthma symptoms. Studies have found that a longer warm up period ( at least 10 min and even more for athletes who exercise for long periods of time) can trigger a Refractory period.  During a Refractory period the airways do not constrict and narrow.

In addition to a longer warm- up, adding in short bursts of intensity (80-90%) a few minutes into the warm up has been shown to initiate that Refractory period as well. Yet another way that intervals benefit us!

We all know that exercise reduces stress, and guess what stress can cause ? –  asthma symptoms. Reducing your stress through exercise can help prevent attacks. Also, regular exercise conditions the body and lessens the symptoms as well.

To sum it up, don’t let your asthma keep you from being active and fit! Talk to your doctor about your symptoms,and together you can create a plan that allows you to keep exercising.

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