Exercise and Asthma

Recent studies have shown that the number of asthma sufferers worldwide is on the increase. Though many people in the medical profession believe that asthma attacks take place when the bronchial airways narrow as a result of inflammation, there are some researchers (Buteyko, among others) who have shown that this narrowing can also take place as a result of faulty breathing–for example chronic hyperventilation, in which too much carbon dioxide is lost too quickly. In any event, the attacks are frequently accompanied by muscle spasms and mucus secretions.

What many people do not realize is that asthma can develop at any age, from childhood well into old age. Attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, including faulty breathing, stress, airborne toxins, cigarette smoke, allergens, cold or dry air, medications, respiratory infections, and even exercise. In fact, it is now believed that up to 90 percent of asthma sufferers experience “exercise-induced asthma.” Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness or congestion, chronic coughing, exercise fatigue, and many more.

Exercise-induced asthma apparently occurs when the airways narrow in response to the intense level of ventilation (inhalation and exhalation) that occurs during exercise. It is noteworthy that many people who exercise end up breathing rapidly through their mouths, which, we do not recommend, especially if you have asthma symptoms of any kind.

Exercise-induced attacks (EIA), which are generally most severe within 5 to 10 minutes after the exercise is finished, are usually over within 30 minutes of the start of the attack, often without the need for medication, and frequently involve airway constriction only–with little or none of the swelling and secretions of mucus that occur during other kinds of asthma attacks.

People who get EIA often believe that they should not exercise. But research has shown that aerobic exercise can be a valuable aspect of treatment, since people who are physically fit generally have fewer asthma attacks and need less medication. But it is extremely important how you undertake aerobic exercise to get the most benefit from it. Assuming you have talked to your health care provider about undertaking an exercise program, and are following all instructions with regards to your medications, here are a few tips that may be helpful in helping you avoid exercise-induced asthma.

First, exercise only as intensely as you can while breathing in and out through your nose. The moment you start breathing through your mouth, you will likely exacerbate the asthmatic symptoms.

Second, be sure to warm up slowly. The moment you feel short of breath, rest for a couple of minutes, then continue with your warm-up. After you have warmed up for 10-15 minutes, depending on how you feel, begin your actual workout.

Third, find the best environment in which to exercise. Don’t exercise where pollens and pollution are high. Jogging on a road with many cars emitting exhaust fumes is not healthy. Don’t exercise in extremely cold or dry air. Exercise, if possible, in a somewhat warm, humid environment. If you exercise inside your home on a stationary bicycle, etc., be sure you have vacuumed recently and be sure to use an air filter. Our homes are often filled with pollutants of all kinds.

Fourth, and finally, be sure to cool down when you are finished with your main workout–that is, use activities such as walking and stretching until your pulse rate slows down. As you cool down, let yourself relax.

Here’s a special practice you can do to increase your relaxation. Rub your hands together until they are warm, and put them one on top of the other on your navel. Sense how your breathing relaxes naturally, with your belly expanding gently as you inhale and retracting gently as you exhale. Then, whenever you feel like it, just stop, sit down, and enjoy this slow, relaxed belly breathing.

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