Exercising with Asthma

If you have asthma, you can probably relate to the frustration of not being able to breath! Not only is it scary but it is just plain aggravating when you have something as simple as a little run around the room with your kids trigger an attack. I was diagnosed with asthma as a small child so I have personal experience. One of the very best things I have done to help myself in this area is to exercise. Particularly cardiovascular exercise and yoga.

My experience with asthma and exercise is probably similar to many other individuals. I am fortunate enough that if I keep my allergies under control, I have much better control of asthma. I may have to use my inhaler before I workout, but not very often. I do have to be very careful to do a good warm up and cool down. If I jump right into a workout, especially a high intensity one, I can pretty much be assured I will have an attack and have to stop. If I take the time to gradually get myself going, I am just fine. I have had to learn that if I go to a class, I have to adjust my workout for me. If I try to go all out right away, it just doesn’t work. It is more than a little embarrassing when you are gasping for air 2 minutes into class. I watch my peak flows and pay attention to how my body feels. Fatigue is often one of the first signs I have that my oxygen saturation levels are dropping. Everyone is different but it is important to pay attention to how your body feels.

I love many forms of cardiovascular exercise. Among my favorites are running, biking, hiking, aerobics, kickboxing, and dance. This type of exercise has allowed me to increase my endurance, my strength and my overall health. The ability to do all of these things in spite of being asthmatic is quite freeing.

Yoga has been a wonderful way for me to learn to focus on breathing and learning to utilize my respiratory muscles. There are many other benefits to yoga, but for someone with asthma, I feel learning to work with the breath is one of the most valuable benefits.

Below are the guidelines suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine for exercising with asthma. I have added my 2 cents worth in italics.

Getting Started

• Talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program and ask for specific programming recommendations and possible changes to your medications.

• Take all medications as recommended by your physician.

• Schedule your exercise session at a time when you’re least likely to experience an attack, such as mid- to late-morning.

• An extended warm-up and a gradual cool-down may help reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms.

• Realize that it might take up to six weeks to get used to your routine and figure out what works best for you.

• Be prepared to adjust your workouts according to changes in weather and fluctuations in your symptoms.

• Start slowly and gradually progress the intensity and duration of your workouts.

• Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.

Exercise Cautions

• Avoid extremes in temperature and humidity. Try to exercise in a controlled environment such as an indoor home or gym with air conditioning.

• Walking and jogging, particularly in warm, dry climates, may produce more asthma symptoms. The same is true for cold-weather, high-intensity activities.

• If exercise aggravates your symptoms, immediately stop all activity and contact your health care provider as you may need more intensive medical management for your asthma.

• Limit your activity on days when pollen counts are high. Again, exercising indoors with the windows closed.

• Do not be concerned if you are unable to reach the higher end of your target heart rate range—you will still experience significant benefits from physical activity. If you have to use your inhaler, your heart rate may be faster than normal.

Your exercise program should be designed to maximize the benefits with the fewest risks of aggravating your health or physical condition. Consider contacting a certified health and fitness professional* who can work with you and your health care provider to establish realistic goals and design a safe and effective program that addresses your specific needs.

*If your health care provider has not cleared you for independent physical activity and would like you to be monitored in a hospital setting or a medical fitness facility, you should exercise only under the supervision of a certified professional. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has two groups of certified fitness professionals that could meet your needs. The ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) is certified to support those with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. The ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) is qualified to support patients with a wide range of health challenges. You may locate all ACSM-certified fitness professionals by using the ProFinder at http://www.acsm.org


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