Staying Active with Asthma
Staying active and exercising has many benefits to your overall health and well-being, but if you have asthma, you may feel the need to limit your activity to avoid symptoms. Understanding your symptoms and how to manage them is the first step to creating an asthma management plan to keep you in the game.
When we exercise, we breathe harder, which causes water loss from our lungs. This water loss drops the temperature of our lungs and can cause asthma symptoms. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, a feeling of chest tightness, and shortness of breath. You may experience symptoms once you begin exercising, or soon after it ends. However, asthma doesn’t have to keep you on the sidelines.
Create an Asthma Management Plan
The first step to starting any exercise plan is to talk with your healthcare provider. Let him or her know what sports and physical activities you would like to participate in, and discuss the symptoms you experience during exercise. Remember to share any concerns or fears you may have. Together, you can create an asthma action plan that keeps you in the game and not on the sidelines.
Consider physical activities that have periods of inactivity, such as baseball.
Keep medications on hand. Your doctor may recommend that you take your quick-relief medicine prior to activity to help avoid asthma symptoms. Keep your quick-relief medicine close by in case you have trouble breathing. Stop activity and use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have asthma symptoms. Make sure to take your medications as prescribed.
Assess your symptoms daily, as well as before exercising. The key to keeping your asthma well controlled is to monitor your symptoms every day. If prescribed by your healthcare provider, a peak flow meter reading can show signs of asthma symptoms before you feel them.
Find the exercise that’s right for you. Consider physical activities that have periods of inactivity, such as baseball. Swimming is often a good choice since the warm, moist air may keep symptoms away. It’s important to warm up and cool down. Ease your body into physical activity with a long warm-up routine and make sure to cool down afterward. When working out in the gym, lower the intensity of your training by increasing the number of rest periods between repetitions and machines. If you begin to feel symptoms, stop activity immediately, take your quick-relief medication, and follow your asthma action plan.
Keep your trainer informed. Share the steps on your asthma action plan with your trainer. Your asthma action plan should specify what to do in case of a breathing emergency, as well as make suggestions to modify your activity depending on your peak flow meter readings. It’s important to communicate with your trainer if you need longer warm-ups and cool-downs or additional rest periods during activity.
Be careful when exercising indoors. Local gyms will keep you warm during your winter workout and cool during the summer, but they may increase your risk of being exposed to asthma triggers, as well as germs. When choosing a gym, ask what types of cleaners and disinfectants are used since bleach and strong odors from cleaning chemicals can cause asthma symptoms. Make sure the pool area is well ventilated and doesn’t have the strong smell of chlorine. A well-ventilated gym will reduce your exposure to mildew, mold, and other asthma triggers.
If you plan to move your physical activity outside, scope out the environment first and be aware of any obvious triggers. Look for areas that aren’t close to major highways with increased automobile exhaust. Monitor air quality forecasts before heading outside. Air pollution can be very high in the summer, and those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being harmed by air pollution.
Remember to get a yearly flu shot. One of the main causes of asthma episodes is a respiratory infection, like the flu. Make sure to clean your gym equipment prior to use and wash your hands frequently. If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
Source: American Lung Association, www.lung.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, May/June 2012.