THE BLOG
09/03/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2014

Asthma and Exercise

Most people with Asthma can exercise and become fit. But the type, and intensity of exercise Asthmatics can do varies greatly from person to person. Here's a video that outlines the rules of thumb.

Asthmatic or not, be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways. It causes bronchial passages to become inflamed and arrowed in response to triggers like cold, exercise, and stress, and allergens like dust mites, dander and smoke.

Breathing becomes labored and difficult, and in extreme cases, Asthma attacks can be fatal. Asthma is on the rise. Asthma affects about 25 million people in the U.S. according to the National Institutes of health.

The cause has been debated for decades. The hygiene hypothesis: it was thought that living in a too clean environment, like suburban America, and smaller family size decreased a child's exposure to bacteria and viruses, thus preventing the immune system from developing normally and allowing it to instead set its sights on allergic triggers like dust.

More recent studies in less clean urban areas suggest Asthma causes are more complex and no one explanation has come to the forefront.

There are many types and degrees of Asthma. There is no cure, but modern medicine has provided options that help keep most Asthma symptoms under control most of the time. They include, drugs, swallowed, inhaled and injected, and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Yes, people with Asthma can exercise.

The most common symptoms are wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing.
But exercising with Asthma is a two edged sword. Exercise is an irritant trigger.

It can induce Asthma. In fact, there is a whole category of asthmatics for which exercise induced Asthma, EIA for short, is the main issue. However this can be overcome. Studies show that exercising for fitness, particularly aerobic exercise, strengthens and builds the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to the same extent as it does in non-asthmatics.

Asthmatics can become very fit. Many Olympic and professional athletes, have exercise-induced Asthma.

So what kinds of exercise can and should asthmatics do and, what precautions should they take.

Pick an exercise that gets your heart rate up without putting too much pressure on your breathing.

Generally, low intensity activities like walking, biking, moderate aerobics and swimming outdoors where fumes from pool chemicals are less of an irritant, are more easily tolerated. Activities like high intensity aerobics or calisthenics can be more problematic and should be approached gradually.

Exercise limitations; vary greatly from person to person. Some asthmatics have trouble with even low intensity exercise, while others can do almost anything most of the time.

First and foremost consult your doctor before you begin.

Rules of thumb:

· Depending on your particular condition, you may need to take medication, or take a puff or two from your inhaler before you begin.
· If you use a peak flow meter, test yourself and don't exercise unless you're in normal range.
· Keep your emergency inhaler handy during exercise just in case.
· Avoid triggers whenever possible.
· If it's too cold or the pollen count is high outside, exercise indoors.
· Exercise outside when the air is clear and humidity is higher.
· If you exercise in the cold, wear a scarf over your nose and mouth to warm and moisten the air as you breathe.
· Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
· Take time to warm up with slow dynamic movements like marching in place or gentle stretching.
· Start slowly and monitor how the exercise is affecting you.
· Avoid sudden bouts of intense exercise.
· Breath through your nose if possible in a relaxed controlled pattern
· Try using pursed lip breathing. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with lips pursed as though whistling. It helps avoid hyperventilation and manages shortness of breath. It helps your airways relax and dilate so you can expel carbon dioxide and take in oxygen.
· If exercise induces your Asthma more severely, with your doctors approval, you may want to try easing in with gentle movements while seated in a chair.

The bottom line is exercising with Asthma is a very individual undertaking. One size does not fit all. Some people can do almost anything, while others have trouble with even light exercise.

Talk to your doctor, listen to your body, Start gently and build up. Stay in your comfort zone. Take precautions, get fit and live well.

For more information of Asthma.