Effect of Exercise on Asthma

By, Anna Dosu

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower your cholesterol, help to control your body weight, and improve your body image.

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But what are the effects of exercise on a person that has asthma? Sometimes, exercise can set off an asthma attack and cause wheezing, chest tightness, cough, and shortness of breath. Some persons experience asthma almost exclusively when they exercise and are said to have “exercise-induced asthma.”

Over the years, scientific researchers have revealed that exercise could amplify asthmatic symptoms, that is, exercises that stimulate the narrowing of the bronchial tubes in persons with asthma.

Exercise has many benefits when it comes to managing your asthma. While exercise can pose dangers, particularly if your asthma is uncontrolled, it is generally safe to exercise despite having the disease.

Please note that you should consult your doctor before starting an exercise program; he may have specific recommendations and adjust your asthma medications to accommodate your increased physical activities.

Let’s take a look at some of the effects of exercise on people living with asthma:

1. Exercise causes more air to be brought onto the bronchial tubes, needing to be warmed and humidified.
Exercise triggers bronchial narrowing in asthma by bringing large volumes of air deep into the chest. When breathing quietly, about one gallon of air enters the lungs each minute. The air that enters the lungs is warmed and has moisture added to it by the nose, mouth and throat. By the time the air reaches the bronchial tubes inside the chest, it has nearly the same temperature and moisture as the walls of the bronchial tubes themselves.

On the other hand, if you run to catch the bus or to catch a baseball, your level of breathing may double or triple to two or three gallons per minute or more. Then you exceed the ability of the nose and mouth to warm and humidify completely the inspired air.

2. In asthma, loss of heat and moisture from the walls of the bronchial tubes makes them contract.
When having a vigorous exercise, the bronchial tubes are called upon to give up warmth and moisture to the incoming air. In a person with asthma, cooling and drying of the bronchial tubes cause the bronchial muscles to contract, narrowing the air passageways and making it difficult to breathe.

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If you are asthmatic, you may have probably noticed that if you exercise on cold days, you are more likely to set off your asthma than if you performed the same exercise on a warm day. The colder (and drier) the air that you breathe during exercising, the more warmth and moisture the bronchial tubes give up and the greater the stimulus to contraction of the muscles that surround the bronchial tubes.

Also, it has long been said that swimming is the best exercise for persons with asthma, and with good reason. The air that you breathe while swimming is usually warm and moist and so the effect of exercise on the breathing tubes is less.

Yoga is another good exercise for asthma. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yoga training over 10 weeks significantly improved quality of life of scores for women with mild to moderate asthma.

There are various strategies that can work effectively to prevent the symptoms of asthma after exercise:

a. Often on a cold day, you can trap a little bit of warm, moist air in front of your mouth by using a scarf pulled up over your nose and mouth. Face masks are also made for this purpose. For serious athletes, a warm-up period of light exertion helps to reduce symptoms during competition. Medications taken before exercise are effective in blocking asthmatic symptoms. One or two puffs of your beta-agonist bronchodilator (for example, albuterol) inhaled ten minutes before exercise usually prevents exercise-induced asthma. Cromolyn (Intal®) and nedocromil (Tilade®) are also effective when inhaled 15-20 minutes before exercising.

b. The effect of asthma on your breathing usually goes away after 30-60 minutes.
Wheezing, chest tightness and cough often come on just after you stop exercising. If you simply rest, the symptoms usually go on their own after about 30-60 minutes. If you use your inhaled bronchodilator, the asthmatic symptoms go away immediately. Unlike other triggers that set off asthma, especially allergic triggers like dust and cat dander, exercise has no lingering effect on the bronchial tubes. After you have recovered back to normal, there are no late effects that night or the next day.

c. The goal of good asthma care is to keep your asthma quiet and to allow you to exercise fully.

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Generally, the more active your asthma, the more susceptible you are to developing symptoms after exercise. The goal of good asthma care is to keep your asthma quiet and to allow you to exercise as fully as you wish. As you know, many Olympic athletes have asthma. Their asthma has not inhibited their exercise performance, and your asthma need not limit yours.

In conclusion, exercise has been shown to benefit all individuals, including those with asthma.

Other potential physical activities for people with asthma include walking, biking, hiking, golf, and gymnastics.

No activity has to be off-limits with asthma, but some sports are more likely to trigger asthma symptoms. These include cold-weather sports, like cross-country skiing, and ice hockey, and endurance sports, like soccer or long-distance running.

If you plan on exercising with asthma, you should have a fast-acting inhaler readily available in case of an exercise-induced attack. Asthma medications relax your airways almost immediately or at most, in a few minutes, to relieve your symptoms.

ALSO READ: 4 Ways To Fight Asthma at Home

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