David Beckham is one of the best-known soccer players of all time. Swimmer Amy Van Dyken won six gold medals in two Olympics. Roy Hibbert is a two-time NBA All-Star.
They all have asthma.
Beckham has had asthma since childhood, while Hibbert wasn’t diagnosed until well into his NBA career.
Swimming helped Van Dyken live a more active life with asthma. “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,” Dyken told Consumer Health Day.
“When I first started swimming I was terrible, but I was with my friends,” she said. “It was a great thing for me to get into.”
With the help of your doctor, you can be active even though you have asthma. Exercise can help you stay healthy and control your symptoms.
What’s the Link Between Exercise and Asthma?
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 say 90 percent of people with chronic asthma also have EIA. Symptoms of EIA are shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. These symptoms may occur within the first few minutes of exercise or right after stopping a workout. They can last for an hour or longer and may lead to an asthma attack.
Some high-intensity, ongoing activities are more likely to trigger EIA. These include basketball, soccer, running and cycling. Activity in cold, dry air, such as cross-country skiing and ice-skating, also can cause this condition.
What Are Some Asthma-Friendly Activities?
What are the best sports for people with asthma? Sports with rest time and short bursts of activity are less likely to trigger symptoms in people with asthma.
These include team sports like volleyball, football, baseball, golf, gymnastics, racket sports and walking. Indoor water sports like swimming and diving are also good choices.
How Can Athletes Manage Asthma?
Do you know that 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.
World-class athletes can manage asthma, and so can you. A study from the University of Alberta offers a guide for asthmatic athletes: a thorough warm-up can help you avoid 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. Your doctor may give you pre-exercise medication to prevent symptoms. It’s also important to follow these steps:
- Check your asthma with your peak-flow meter before you exercise.
- Avoid working out when your symptoms are not under control or when you have a cold or other infection.
- Exercise indoors when air pollution or airborne allergens such as pollen are at high levels.
- Warm up for several minutes by stretching and running in place.
- It’s best to exercise indoors in cold weather. But if you do exercise outdoors, breathe through your nose and cover your face with a mask.
- Use quick-acting medicine from your doctor if your asthma worsens.
- 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.
Sources: “Asthma very common among Olympic-level swimmers,” Reuters, April 2, 2015; “Many Olympians Suffer from Asthma,” 60-Second Health, Scientific American, Aug. 1, 2012; “The ‘Asthmatic Advantage’ at the Olympics,” Runner’s World, July 30, 2012; “Interview: Breathless in Sydney,” Consumer Health Day, Jan. 20, 2016; “Effect of warm-up exercise on exercise-induced bronchoconstriction,” University of Alberta, 2012