Exercise and asthma; although exercise is a common trigger for asthma symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing and chest tightness) they say it also helps reduce your symptoms… So, how to deal with this contradiction?!

First things first: the question needs to be addressed whether exercise is actually beneficial to people suffering from asthma. Subsequently, I’ll get practical and share some info on asthma friendly sports.

For those of you out there who already start sweating at the thought of working out; do not fear! This is is the first blog of a little trilogy. In my next two blogs I’ll get into the benefits of meditation and imaginary exercise on lung health. What? Imaginary exercise? Yes, there is such a thing: mental effort can result in physical changes to your mind and body. Here you’ll find a little teaser so you know what I’m getting at.

That’s all very nice, but for now I’ll leave out the imaginary part, because nothing beats the real deal.

So who says exercise is beneficial to people suffering from asthma?

Well, first of all: me…(because I’ve experienced it first hand), but that probably won’t impress you very much. So let me throw some science at you.

Research on physical activity and asthma shows that exercise can have a positive effect on asthma symptoms. 19 studies were analyzed involving a total of almost 700 participants. All the participants took part in exercise programs that lasted between 6 and 16 weeks. The activities (including cycling, brisk walking and swimming) were done two or three times a week, and lasted at least 20 minutes at a time.

The results? The people who took part in the exercise programme had asthma symptoms less often afterwards, compared to people who did not take part in the programs.

There was nothing to suggest that exercise programs have any negative effects, such as increasing the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

Physical activity usually only leads to an asthma attack if the asthma is poorly controlled or the activity is too strenuous. The risk of exercise-induced asthma attacks tends to be low if you are aware of the problem and are prepared for the physical exertion.

And this only focussed on the absence of asthma symptoms, but there are many more benefits of sports that are worth mentioning:

Exercising…

  • …boosts your immune system as a whole;
  • …supports weight loss
  • …releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain to lift your mood
  • …etc.

So we have a ‘go’ on exercize!

What sports are best for your lungs if you have asthma?

A short introduction: having asthma means your lungs are more sensitive to things like cold or hot temperatures, dry air, allergens, and pollution. When you’re not exercising, you probably breathe through your nose. Breathing through your nose moistens, warms, and filters the air you breathe before it gets into your lungs. But while working out, you probably breathe through your mouth. That can be tough on your lungs and can trigger asthma symptoms.

It is better to pick an exercise that is not too difficult for you because trying an exercise that you are not in shape for may also trigger asthma symptoms. Don’t push yourself if your asthma starts to flare. They say that the best exercise is (one) that causes you to be just slightly out of breath. But make sure you pass the talk test (if you can still talk comfortably while you are exercising, you may not be working hard enough to receive all the benefits of exercising :-))

Some sports that deserve extra attention…

  • Walking is good on many levels. First, it’s a form of aerobic exercise that most of us can fit easily into our lives. I walk about an hour a day. That seems like a lot, but my 30 min back and forth to work already gets me there. Secondly, you can easily ‘dose’ it: you simply lower your tempo when your running out of breath. Science also supports walking for asthma patients.
  • Yoga is great for people with asthma. The magic ingredient is probably breath control. Breathing exercises can activate more areas of the lung.” This study shows that yoga training improved quality of life in women with mild-to-moderate asthma.
  • Team sports (such as volleyball, soccer, basketball etc.) are very suitable because it lets you move in short bursts: you’ll only need to run while the ball is in play, yet you can still get a good workout  This is especially interesting if you have Exercise Induced Asthma, because EIA is triggered after running for six or more minutes of continuous movement.

Be careful with…

  • Skiing: although downhill skiing is surprisingly gentle on the airways, cross-country skiing is tricky, because the strenuous activity dries out the airways. Of course you also notice the cold dry air during downhill skiing, but you’re not physically exerting yourself as much and that makes all the difference.
  • Swimming: science is still quite divided regarding the question whether swimming is beneficial or detrimental for asthma. Although the warm, moist air in indoor swimming pools is lung-friendly, chlorine (a chemical used to sanitize pool water) is often irritating people with asthma and may cause difficulty breathing. Read more about this here.

Of course there are a few things you need to bare in mind if you have asthma and you wish to exercise, but other than that, nothing is standing in the way of working out!

Oh, in case you didn’t know; there are loads of elite athletes out there with asthma! So let these people inspire you: soccer player David Beckham, swimmer Amy van Dyken, track athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, tennis player Justine Henin and many more…

BONUS MATERIAL 🙂: the table below gives you some examples of sports and their potential risk of EIA/EIB (which is short for Exercise-Induced Asthma/ Bronchoconstriction):