Asthma is a condition that obstructs the airways, making breathing difficult. Severity can range from mild with almost no symptoms to severe with activity causing major breathing problems. No matter the level, exercise is possible and necessary.
The first step is to get over any psychological barriers that may exist. Most asthmatics have had the condition since they were children, and they may have developed an aversion to exercise based on negative past experiences. Exercise should not be avoided, and it must be approached slowly by asthmatic individuals who have been sedentary for a while.
Individuals with mild asthma can approach exercise much like the regular sedentary population. Start out with 3-5 days a week for 20-45 minutes at an intensity of 60-75% of the maximum heart rate. Good aerobics to start with are the elliptical machine, arc trainer machine, walking, cycling, and rowing. Jogging during the first 6 weeks isn't advised because running can more easily bring about an asthmatic episode in unconditioned individuals. Strength training and flexibility training should be included in a full program. Try to strength train once or twice a week when starting out, and include flexibility daily.
Exercise for this group of individuals will be a slow process with an initial focus on building exercise tolerance. The goal of building exercise tolerance can take months to achieve, but the benefits are well worth it. Exertion should not exceed 40-60% of the maximum heart rate. Start exercise at 3 days a week for sessions of 10-30 minutes. Good aerobic choices are brisk walking, rowing, stair climbing, and cycling. Flexibility should be done daily. Circuit training is a good strength training option for once or twice a week.
Tips for Asthmatics of all levels
- Breathing is vital to controlling asthma attacks. Breathing in through the mouth can cause cool/cold air to get into the lungs leading to an asthma complication. Always breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. If you can't control the breathing, slow down the intensity of the exercise.
- Exercising at a level higher than 75% of the maximum heart rate increases the chances of an asthmatic complication.
- All exercise programs should begin with a 6-8 week introductory period in which the exerciser pays close attention to their breathing and responses to exercise. This is the time to learn what intensities are best for achieving a desirable heart rate with maintained breathing.
- If wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or chest discomfort occur, take the intensity down or stop exercise. This will usually happen 5-15 minutes into exercise and can last up to 30 minutes after exercise.
- Early morning is a common time for asthma symptoms.
- A proper warm up and cool down of at least 5 minutes each should be used to prepare the body for exercise and cessation of exercise.
- Medications should be used as normal.
- Exercise indoors if there are extreme temperatures outside. Extreme cold can be harsh on the lungs, and extreme heat is usually accompanied by many allergens in the air.
- Speak with your doctor before beginning a new program if you are unsure.