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How to Exercise with Asthma

by Nina Smith

Asthma is one of the most commonly diagnosed respiratory diseases, with around 8% of the population of the western world affected by it. It can often result in causing an asthma “attack”, where a particular trigger (usually in the environment), causes the breathing to become restricted and can cause panic, and even sometimes death. Those with asthma will often first experience the condition as a child, and for the most part the symptoms will become more manageable in adult life. With that said, many adults continue to suffer from asthma throughout their life, so knowing how to properly manage your symptoms is an absolute must for your safety.

The Problem with Exercising with Asthma

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One problematic area of an asthmatic’s life is that of exercising. When we exercise, we breathe deeper and more heavily as our body tries to get more oxygen flowing into our red blood cells. Asthmatics get asthma symptoms like wheezing and coughing from having sensitive airways that get easily inflamed when they come into contact with something that they don’t like. When we exercise this heavy breathing increases the airflow in our airways, increasing the chance that our airway lining gets irritated and becomes inflamed.

This is often a disparaging problem that discourages people, especially children, from en–gaging in sport and fitness. Despite the apparent risks, those with asthma should still be exercising regularly, as the overall health benefits of keeping fit and healthy is worth the risk, the risk being very little if you carry the appropriate asthma medication such as an inhaler around with you all the time.

Why You Should Exercise with Asthma

Far from being counterintuitive, exercise actually has multiple benefits to those suffering with asthma, including the following:

  • Increasing your lung capacity
  • Decreasing the chance of inflammation in the airways over time
  • Improving the overall health of your lungs
  • Improving your mood and reducing stress, which can sometimes contribute to flare ups of asthma symptoms
  • Improving your overall immune system functioning, and in doing so significantly reducing the chance of getting a respiratory infection, leading to asthma symptoms.

A study of 700 individuals suffering from asthma found that lung and heart fitness is improved during exercise, improving standard of living across the board. The recommendations pointed towards exercise as an activity that asthmatics should regularly engage in, with no overwhelming evidence for asthma increasing the intensity or frequency of symptoms.

What’s the Best Activity for Me?

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If you’re lucky, you may be able to use the other tips in this article to safely and comfortably participate in any chosen physical activity, however there are some sports that are more likely to trigger asthma symptoms and you should therefore stay clear of. Any exercise that involves heavy breathing for a long period of time, especially when outdoors, is likely to be worse for your symptoms. This is because the heavy breathing dries out your airways, and breathing the cold outside air in your lungs for an extended period will increase the chance of irritants aggravating the lining of your airways. Breathing heavily extensively without breaks means you’re not giving your breathing time to recover and stabilise. The exercises that we recommended avoiding until you’ve got your asthma more under control are the following:

  • Endurance sports such as long-distance running, basketball or football
  • Circuit training
  • Interval training
  • Intense cycling
  • Cross country skiing or other snow sports
  • Outside sports during allergy season

On the flip side, activities that are less heavy on the respiratory system, are more stop-start in terms of the time moving, or are indoors where the air is warmer, will all be great places to start. Swimming is a fantastic exercise for those suffering from asthma, since being in the water relaxes your muscles which in turn reduces the likelihood of your airways seizing up and constricting. The warmer, more humid air has also been proven to open up the lungs and allow better air flow. This has been supported from scientific research and is why swimming could be your best option for serious exercise without prompting an asthma attack.

Here are the physical activities we recommend for not aggravating your asthma symptoms:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Weight Lifting
  • Yoga / Pilates
  • Golf
  • Start-Stop sports such as baseball or volleyball
  • Leisurely Cycling

Activities that require mobility and get your body moving like walking and yoga are good because they are not overly physical exerting, meaning you can perform these for longer spouts without being seriously out of breath. Be wary that in Winter, the cold air might prompt asthma symptoms to begin, especially if you’re walking in more challenging terrain or at an incline. Yoga is great because you specifically focus on your breathing as you’re performing each pose, with an emphasis of slow steady breath-taking rather than a flurry of short, sharp inhalations. You can also engage in exercise such as short-distance sprints, or jumping or throwing events in athletics, as although these are highly exertive, the duration is shorter, and there’s plenty of time between each movement to recover and rest.

Other Considerations

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Whichever activity you’re planning on performing, be conscious of what the atmosphere and climate is like. Temperature can make a huge difference to an asthmatic’s symptoms when exercising. Also be sure to avoid exercising outdoors where there’s pollen or other allergens in the air, especially during peak hay fever season.

It’s important to warm up thoroughly before partaking in any exercise, as this will prompt your airways to open up. You shouldn’t ‘overdo’ it, take your time and build up to longer or higher intensity workouts, especially if you’re not a hugely physically active person currently.

You must carry your reliever inhaler with you whenever you engage in physical activity, if not all the time. Despite taking the precautionary steps to limit the outbreak of symptoms, asthma attacks can be unpredictable and can in some instances be fatal if not treated quickly, so having your inhaler to hand gives you peace of mind.

For more information about asthma and the methods of prevention and treatment, check out Pharmica, the UK’s trusted online pharmacy, to learn more