Around 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma and if you have just been diagnosed with the condition or you know someone who has, one of the first questions your mind conjures up may be: ‘How will this affect my workout or exercise regimen?’.
Despite myths alleging the contrary, exercise is actually good for asthma. For one, getting regular cardiovascular workouts boosts your lung health as well as your heart health, and this means it can help reduce breathlessness.
This is just one of the many benefits exercise can bring your life. Read on as to why you should make it a priority and discover how you can adapt your routine depending on your condition.
How Exercise can Help Reduce Symptoms of Asthma
As mentioned above, building up your fitness and stamina can help you withstand the physical efforts you make in daily life. It also helps you build your immunity, which will help keep colds and viruses at bay.
For around 80% of people with asthma, these are a major trigger so it is important to take proactive steps against them. Research published by the European Lung Foundation found that people with asthma who take part in exercise and consume a healthy diet control their symptoms 50% more than those in a control group. During the study, participants completed both gentler and high-intensity exercises.
Checking Your Health is Key
The first step before starting an exercise regimen should involve speaking to your GP or pneumologist about what type or level of activity they recommend. Learning the right breathing techniques can also help you reduce the sensation of breathlessness when you exercise, as can taking your preventive medicine.
The latter helps soothe inflammation and gives you more protection against common triggers such as pollen, air pollution, and mold.
Choosing Your Venue
If pollen is a trigger for your asthma, then on days in which pollen counts are high, exercising indoors may be more suitable. If you often work out at home, ensure your home is free of pollen, dander, and mold.
If you have a mold allergy, breathing in spores will cause your immune system to overreact. Some mold is more dangerous than others – especially toxic or black mold. Therefore, you should clean your interiors with a powerful steam vacuum.
This will enable you to avoid harsh chemicals like bleach, while keeping spores and dust to a minimum. A quality HEPA filter, meanwhile, will trap dust measuring as little as 0.3 microns.
Finding the Right Activity
Creating a workout you enjoy and feel motivated enough to continue depends on your taste and the effect that each activity might have on your symptoms. For instance, some people with asthma enjoy swimming; others find that chlorine and/or the moist air triggers symptoms.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology recommends walking, leisure cycling, and hiking. They also state that sports requiring short bursts of energy such as football, sprints, baseball etc are less generally harmful than those requiring sustained cardiovascular effort – including basketball, marathon running, triathlons, soccer, and others.
Some people find that snow-based activities like skiing can make symptoms worse. In reality, exercise needs to be approached on an individual basis, since people with asthma can often take part in almost any activity.
Why is cycling such a good form of exercise? There are lots of scientific reasons why cycling is good for your body and your mental health. We are going to take a look at some of the best health benefits of regular cycling.
Tips for Getting Started
If your doctor has recommended an activity like swimming, cycling, or even a fun Zumba class, it is important to warm up first.
A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise found that certain warmups can help reduce the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.
The researchers found that the most consistent and effective way to attenuate exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) was to high-intensity interval and variable intensity warm-up exercises. Through these exercises, people with asthma can remain protected for up to 80 minutes (or even longer – the scientists only tested the effects until 80 minutes).
What does the Recommended Warm-Up Involve?
The warm-up mentioned in the study involved 20 to 30 minutes of gentle cardiovascular exercise. This can include cycling, running, or swimming slowly – star slow and pick up your pace as the minutes go by. During this warm-up phase, take part in short bursts (up to 90% of your maximum intensity) for between two and five minutes.
Return to a slower pace again and repeat. When you try this for the first time, analyze the effect it has had on your workout. You should notice greater comfort and lower asthma symptoms.
Cooling Down is Also Key
It is also important to dedicate five to 10 minutes to cooling down after your workout. This will help prevent asthma symptoms that may commence post-effort. To reduce your heart rate and catch your breath, try stretching and walking slowly. If you swim or cycle, you can spend this time doing the same activity, but at a much slower pace.
What if Symptoms Occur During Your Workout?
Even if you have used your bronchodilator as prescribed prior to your workout, asthma symptoms can potentially arise. If they do, immediately slow down, and if symptoms worsen, a short-acting bronchodilator like albuterol may help. If breathlessness occurs frequently and limits your ability to exercise, let your doctor know in case a new asthma plan needs to be formulated.
For instance, doctors sometimes recommend anti-inflammatory type medications such as budesonide, taken on a regular basis. These medications do not provide quick relief like bronchodilators do. However, in the long term, they make breathing easier by reducing irritation and swelling of the airways.
Your First Workout
If you are a complete beginner to exercise, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends that you exercise at your lowest target heart rate. To know your target heart rate zone (which is between 50% and 85% of your maximum heart rate), subtract your age from the number 220 (for men) and from the number 226 (for women).
For instance, if you are a 30-year-old man, then your maximum heart rate will be 220 – 30 = 190.
Multiply the result by 0.50 to obtain the low end of your target zone. So in this case, 190 x 0.50 = 95 beats per minute. Use a heart rate monitor on your wrist to ensure you do not go too much above this figure, intensifying your effort as the days and weeks go by. To obtain your maximum heart rate, multiply (in this case) 190 by 0.85. The answer is 161.5 beats per minute.
Breathing and Medication Tips
Doctors recommend that people with asthma breathe through the nose (i.e. keep the mouth closed) when exercising. In winter, this will stop colder, drier air from entering your airways.
You should also take asthma medications prior to exercise if your doctor recommends this.
Some athletes are told to use their inhaler between 15 minutes to half an hour prior to exercise. You may also be recommended to use a dust mask. This will make it less comfortable to breathe, but once you are used to utilizing it during workouts, it can make exercise considerably more bearable – since masks significantly block dust and other irritants from getting to your airways.
Could Caffeine Help?
A study by researchers at Indiana University showed that there is one thing that can potentially be as effective at reducing exercise-induced asthma symptoms as albuterol inhalers: caffeine!
The scientists found that consuming between three and nine milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight reduced wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.
In the study, 10 people with exercise-induced asthma ingested three, six, or eight mg of caffeine per kg of body weight prior to running on a treadmill. Pulmonary function tests were then carried out before, then at one, five, 10, 15, and 30 minutes post-workout and the results were similar to those afforded by albuterol.
The good news is that coffee may actually hold some surprising health benefits. There have been a number of studies carried out recently to show that, in fact, we might be able to benefit from drinking more!
Because your symptoms depend on potential allergens, it is important to be flexible about when and where you work out.
For instance, if you love running but pollen counts are high, have a home set-up in place that will enable you to get the same benefits.
If you have an empty space, turn it into a home gym with a TRX suspension training and a few free weights. Try to engage in more than one cardiovascular exercise form so you can jump from one to another depending on the conditions outside. Finally, embrace yoga and other holistic exercises that have a big focus on mental conditioning as well as physical strength and flexibility.
TRX Suspension Training is the most sought-after fitness equipment of the past years. Why is it so popular and does it really work?
One key component of yoga is pranayamic (or controlled breathing). This can help people with asthma reduce their anxiety when they feel a panic attack is coming on. One of the most common symptoms of panic attacks is shortness of breath. Panic attacks can be confused with asthma attacks. Pranayamic breathing essentially involves taking long, controlled breaths comprising various seconds of inhaling and even more seconds of exhaling. This brings the heart rate down and helps to instil a sense of calm.
The first step to getting fitter if you have asthma, involves creating a plan with your doctor. The latter may recommend using specific medications (for instance albuterol) prior to exercise.
Choosing the right activity is also key; what works well for a friend may impose triggers on you so adaptation and reformulation of your exercise plan may be required. People with asthma can undertake a wide array of activities so if you wheeze or feel your chest tightening during exercise, comment this to your doctor.
Specialist allergists can help you work out the cause of your symptoms and find a way to skirt them so you can continue to set and achieve new fitness goals as the weeks and months go by.