Exercise Adds up for Asthma Sufferers

Exercise Adds up for Asthma Sufferers
by Tara Postnikoff | February 11, 2010

Don't let asthma stop you from participating in a more active lifestyle. Exercise is beneficial for both your mental and physical health, and recommended by both the American Thoracic Society and the American College of Sports Medicine for asthma sufferers.

As long as you and your doctor are comfortable with your level of activity, asthma shouldn't prevent you from exercising for a healthier, happier life.

If you've got asthma, you've likely heard a lot of contradictions and misinformation about how exercise can positively or adversely affect you. But the truth is, exercise is actually beneficial for asthma sufferers, just as it is for everybody else looking to improve their fitness and their health. In fact, a 2005 review of asthma and exercise studies in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that not only is exercise safe for asthma sufferers, it can significantly improve their cardiovascular fitness and quality of life.

Asthma certainly doesn't stop world-class athletes from performing at their best. A survey of athletes at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics found that 15% of participants suffered from asthma, with 10% on asthma medication. And 22.4% of American athletes at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games count themselves among asthma sufferers, too. So if they can compete against the best athletes in the world, then you can certainly get started on a safe and effective exercise routine.

Besides reducing the risk of other diseases, exercise can also help you reduce stress, sleep better and feel more energized overall. And the more you exercise over time, the less likely you'll be to suffer an asthma attack during exercise. But it's important to have a thorough medical evaluation and consult your doctor first before beginning any type of exercise program.

Another key is choosing the right activities to participate in that won't trigger your symptoms. Exercises and sports with short bursts of exertion such as volleyball, baseball, gymnastics and wrestling are generally well tolerated by asthma sufferers. Indeed, some studies imply that low-intensity exercise such as walking might be more protective against asthma than brief, high-intensity exercise.

This includes sports such as basketball, soccer, and long-distance running, as well as cold weather sports such as ice hockey, ice skating and cross-country skiing. Nonetheless, many people with asthma are able to participate and enjoy these activities. If you prefer high-intensity exercise, gradually work your way up over time until you're comfortable with this level of exertion.

Swimming is a great activity for asthma sufferers because it's usually performed in a warm, moist-air environment – and it's also a great way to stay in shape. Likewise, yoga is also beneficial for people with asthma as it involves stretching, breathing, chest expansion, and meditation techniques – which can help reduce stress and expand your airway opening. One study of yoga and asthma patients even found that two-thirds of yoga practitioners were able to reduce or eliminate their asthma medications altogether.

Other activities ideal for asthma sufferers include both indoor and outdoor cycling, aerobics and walking or running on a treadmill. Optimally, you should be exercising three to five days a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a low to medium intensity. Regardless of whatever activity or exercise you choose to do, follow these general tips and pointers for an exercise routine that's as safe as it is effective:

It's extremely important to warm up properly before you exercise. Allot at least five to ten minutes for mild aerobic activity and some stretching to help prepare your body for more intense periods of activity.

Try low-impact exercises and activities with a consistent pace for an even, regular heart beat. Low-intensity activities such as walking and swimming are ideal, and they can be performed for a longer period of time.

Avoid exercising outdoors on smoggy days or in polluted environments, or exercising in extremely cold or hot weather. Try exercising indoors in an air-conditioned building, which has filters that trap pollution.

When we exert ourselves outdoors, we breathe harder and take in more air, and therefore more pollutants. If you do exercise outdoors, drink plenty of water, take frequent rests and pay attention to how your body feels. Signs of heat sickness include nausea, dizziness and blurry vision.

Listen to what your body is saving, and take a break when necessary. Don't try to push through discomfort or pain – your endurance will increase over time, not in one session. Take a rest instead, and resume exercising only when you feel fully capable.

If you experience asthma symptoms during your workout, stop immediately and take your inhaler medication. If your symptoms pass, then you may resume exercising.

If your symptoms persist, stop your workout, repeat your medication and call your doctor or health care provider for further instructions and advice

An extended cool-down period is just as important as properly warming up. By taking it slow, you can prevent asthma attacks that can occur immediately after exercise. A warm bath or shower and the accompanying warm, moist air can also help prevent symptoms from occurring.

About the Author - Tara Postnikoff

Tara Postnikoff is a Registered Nutritional Consultant, certified Personal Trainer and Coach in Toronto and a distance runner and a triathlete. She is the founder of Healthy Eating Active Living.

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