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Asthma Needn't Restrict Quality of Life

March 2008
Asthma Needn't Restrict Quality of Life

According to the American Lung Association, there are almost 20 million Americans living with asthma—the most common respiratory disorder affecting both children and adults. Asthma, which is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, happens due to the constriction of the smooth muscle around the airways, a swelling of the mucosal cells, and/or increased secretion of mucous. Asthma can be caused by an allergic reaction, exercise, certain infections, and even environmental factors such as cold, cigarette smoke, pollution, dust, and pollen. During an asthma attack, the smooth muscles surrounding the airways go into spasm.

Asthma can be chronic and/or exercise induced. Chronic asthmatics have trouble breathing while at rest. Exercise induced asthma is triggered by physical exertion or prolonged exercise, because during exercise, air tends to be inhaled through the mouth thus making it colder and drier, unlike the warmer air which is breathed through the nose while at rest. The cold dry air can then trigger an asthma attack.

Even though almost 80 percent of asthmatics experience asthma attacks during exercise, studies show that regular exercise can reduce the number and severity of exercise induced asthma attacks. Physically fit asthmatics have fewer attacks, and require less medication. Exercise also makes normal daily activities easy for asthmatics.

If you are asthmatic, you might cringe at the thought of beginning an exercise program. You will be reassured to know, however, that even Olympic athletes have successfully competed having asthma. Do not use having asthma as a reason to stay away from exercise. Instead, talk to your doctor about a medication/treatment plan to get your asthma under control and get approval to begin an exercise program. Then keep the following guidelines in mind to exercise safely with asthma:

? Keep an inhaler with you at all times and use it at the first sign of wheezing.

? Using the inhaler several minutes before exercise may reduce the chance of an attack.

? Drink plenty of water before and during exercise.

? Always exercise in a controlled environment (mostly indoors) and avoid exercising in extreme conditions such as high/low temperatures, heavy pollution, and during high pollen count.

? Extend your warm-up and cool- down time.

? Keep the exercise intensity low and then gradually increase it over a period of time. If symptoms start occurring, immediately reduce the intensity.

Best exercises, best intensity and duration: Exercises such as walking, cycling and swimming are best for asthmatics. Cold weather activities such as skiing should be avoided. If you do choose to walk or exercise in cold weather, do wear a scarf or mask over your nose and mouth to keep the air that you are breathing warm. Swimming in a warm pool may be of benefit as it allows asthmatics to inhale the moist humid air. Low intensity exercise is best initially and may be increased to moderate depending on your fitness level and limitations. Asthmatics should exercise at least three to four times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes. If you experience shortness of breath during the 30-minute session, two 15-minute ones would be better. Remember to keep your warm-up and cool-down period longer than 10 minutes.

Let asthma not be an excuse to avoid exercise and limit the activities that you enjoy. Instead, get educated, talk to your doctor, get motivated, keep that inhaler with you and get moving!

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