Don’t Be Sidelined by Exercise-Induced Asthma

David Beckham is one of the best-known soccer players of all time.

Roy Hibbert is a two-time NBA All-Star.

Swimmer Amy Van Dyken won six gold medals in two Olympics.

What do these athletes all have in common? They all are living with asthma.

 Beckham has been managing his asthma since he was a young boy, while Hibbert wasn’t diagnosed until well into his NBA career. For Van Dyken joining a swim team helped her live a more active life with asthma. As she told Consumer Health Day, “I started swimming when I was 6 and did it on a doctor’s recommendation, I wanted to be normal and walk up and down the stairs by myself…when I first started swimming I was terrible, but I was with my friends. It was a great thing for me to get into.”

With the help of your doctor, you can be active even though you have been diagnosed with asthma. Exercise can help you with both staying healthy and controlling your symptoms.

What’s the connection between asthma and exercise?

Physical activity can bring on an asthma attack called exercise-induced asthma (EIA).

Normally, your nose helps warm and humidify the air you breathe. But, when you breathe quickly through your mouth during harder exercise, the air going in your lungs is cooler and drier. This can bring on EIA.

Experts report 90 percent of people dealing with chronic asthma also experience EIA. Symptoms of EIA are coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can occur within the when first starting exercise or right after stopping a workout. They may last for an hour or longer and could progress to an asthma attack.

What exercises are more likely to cause an attack?

Some high-intensity, ongoing activities are more likely to trigger EIA. These include cycling, running basketball, and soccer. Activity in cold, dry air, such as ice-skating and cross-country skiing, also can cause this condition .

What are the best sports for people living with asthma?

Sports with short bursts of activity and rest time are not as likely to trigger symptoms in people with asthma. Team sports like gymnastics, volleyball, football, gymnastics, baseball, golf, and racket sports are good choices. Indoor water sports such as diving and swimming are also good choices.

How does a world-class athlete manage asthma?

At the London Olympics in 2012, nearly 8 percent of the athletes had asthma. In fact, the most common chronic health problem among all Olympic athletes is asthma.

A recent study from the University of Alberta and Centre for Lung Health offers a guide for asthmatic athletes: a proper warm-up can make a big difference in whether you run into breathing trouble during exercise.

According to the research, “asthma attacks produce a ‘refractory period,’ during which the airways become immune for a moment from another attack. As a result, a warm-up that is long and intense enough to sensitize the airways may allow athletes to get through their competition or time trial without suffering an attack.”

How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

EIA is a chronic health problem that you can manage. To prevent symptoms, your doctor may give you pre-exercise medication. Following these tips is also important:

  • Avoid working out when you have a cold or other infection or your symptoms are not under control.
  • Stretch and run in place for several minutes for a warm-up.
  • Check your asthma with your peak-flow meter before you exercise.
  • Use quick-acting medicine from your doctor if your asthma worsens.
  • It’s best to exercise indoors in cold weather. But if you do exercise outdoors, breathe through your nose and keep your face covered with a mask.
  • Exercise indoors when airborne allergens such as pollen or air pollution are at high levels.
  • After your workout, don’t stop suddenly. Instead, cool down slowly for several minutes by stretching and jogging.

Having asthma doesn’t mean missing out on the health benefits of an active lifestyle. Be sure to talk to your doctor about activities that are best for you and your asthma management.

Learn more about managing asthma on the Taking on Asthma website.


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