Exercise is a must for a healthy and long life. For those with asthma however, exercise carries many challenges, many of which are fortified by myths such as “exercise causes asthma to worsen”. Nothing can be further from the truth. While exercise may trigger shortness of breath in any person, for those suffering from asthma the symptoms are more pronounced and may include hyperventilation and chest discomfort. On the other hand, exercising in controlled conditions improves the lungs, boosts the immune system and keeps weight under check – all of which help reduce asthma symptoms. A review of 19 studies (involving 695 people) on exercises for asthma, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012, found that exercise for asthma is not only safe, but also improves heart and lung fitness, and improves quality of life.
Here are some exercises that people ailing from asthma, of any age, can safely perform daily.
Walking - A study by NCBI that assessed the effects of a 12-week supervised exercise intervention followed by 12 weeks of self-administered exercise, on adults with partially controlled asthma, found that adults who walked three times a week for 12 weeks actually displayed improved asthma control and fitness levels without provoking an attack, indicating that a structured exercise intervention can improve asthma control.
Yoga - Yoga is great for people with asthma. Yoga centers around breathing control, thereby improving blood circulation in the respiratory organs and making them stronger. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yoga training over 10 weeks significantly improved quality of life scores for women with mild to moderate asthma. Additionally, people who practice Hatha yoga for two-and-a-half hours a week for these 10 weeks were able to cut down on their asthma medication. Tai Chi, a martial art that also lays stress on breathing, was shown to have produced similar effects.
Swimming - This is the ideal sport for those with asthma. The natural pressure that water applies on the sinuses helps unblock them. Also the natural action of swimming exercises the muscles that support the respiratory organs, making them stronger. The air that one breathes while swimming is also highly humidified and warm, helping control symptoms of an asthma attack. Do ensure that the chlorine level in the water is not excessive, as chemicals may trigger an attack. Additionally, avoid swimming in open sea as the salt water mist may cause breathing trouble.
Biking - Biking should be practiced with care, as rapid biking requires rapid breathing, which may trigger an asthma attack. Mountain biking should be avoided as well, as uphill biking may dry out airways due to rapid breathing. If you love the wheels then head out on a flat surface at a pace that is comfortable to you.
Running - Short distance running at a uniform pace with frequent rests, done in clear air provides adequate exercise to the lungs without taxing it too much. For those who wish to run a marathon, regular practice to build up lung capacity is crucial.
Dance - Dance creates a balance between breathing and workout, also allowing for intermittent breaks. As with swimming, it helps with building muscle strength in the muscles that support the respiratory organs.
Golfing - A round of golf does wonders for the peace of mind; in addition it is an excellent exercise for those with severe asthmatic conditions. The alternate rounds of swinging and walking sets a relaxed pace. It would be prudent to check the air quality outdoors before deciding on a day of golfing, as well as taking adequate protection, such as masks, against pollen.
Racquet sports - Tennis and indoor racquet sports like badminton allow short spurts of workout with regular rests in between. This makes it ideal for people prone to asthma attacks. Do remember to check outdoor air quality levels before stepping out for outdoor racquet sports like tennis.
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Some tips to keep in mind when you go exercising:
- Start small, with short exercise durations, and work your way upwards, to reduce the possibility of exercise-induced asthma.
- Always carry reliever medication and spacer with you.
- Warm up before any kind of exercise.
- While exercising, watch for asthma symptoms. Stop and take your reliever medication if symptoms appear. Refrain from returning to exercise immediately.
- After exercise, do stretches to cool down as asthma symptoms can even occur up to half an hour after exercise.