Column 33 - Asthma and Exercise

Original publication date: April 18, 1984

Asthma, one of the most common respiratory diseases (especially in Britain due to fog, pollution and cigarettes) can render a child or adult helpless during an attack. Wheezing and shortness of breath have prevented many asthmatics from participating in sports and enjoying an active life.

The symptoms of asthma are caused by the narrowing of the airways to the lungs, due to contractions of the muscle coats forming the walls of the airways.

Usually asthma appears early in life. The child with asthma very quickly discovers the discomfort associated with exertion, and soon finds ways to avoid or eliminate the otherwise strenuous but healthy childhood activities. A childhood friend of mine was such a child. She _was shy, withdrawn and mainly a loner, who hated recess or gym because of her inability to cope with all the activity. The teachers did not force her to go out for recess or participate in gym class, but allowed her to seek refuge in her bookworld at the back of the classroom. She did not live to see her twentieth birthday.

The risk of death with asthma is really quite rare. Unless there are severe complications associated with asthma, the asthmatic should be able to lead a fulfilling life, with the help of treatment.

One treatment, which can also be a setback, is exercise. Because asthma attacks appear only with exertion, exercise itself can trigger an attack. This would be enough to discourage any asthmatic from maintaining a regular exercise program. It has proven though, that there is no lung deterioration even after repeated attacks, so exercise is not harmful. If the asthamatic does not exercise, but rather allows the asthma to control his lifestyle, there is a great risk for the asthmatic to become fat, weak, and develop a poor cardiovascular system. They seem to have a no-win situation.

If, however, the asthmatic can endure the initial setbacks brought on by the exercise, he or she will find the physical capabilities of their bodies will greatly improve, their strength will increase, and the number of attacks will ultimately decrease.

Walking is a great exercise because it builds endurance and strength without being too strenuous. Sprinting, or any short duration activity will benefit the asthamtic's aerobic capabilities. Interval training of running two minutes and walking for four minutes, building up to running five minutes and walking or resting 10 minutes, is a more advanced stage of training. Any running over six minutes is inadvisable until the asthmatic's doctor warrants the body conditioned enough.

Exercise should begin as soon as asthma is diagnosed. In many cases, children with asthma who have maintained an exercise program have been able to partially or completely eliminate their asthma symptons. Many adults who begin an exercise program after years of inactivity may find themselves inheriting asthma symptoms. They may have in fact had asthma all their life without realizing it. Their dislike or discomfort with activity as a child may have been improperly diagnosed as not being competitive or lacking drive.

For those with asthma, exercise makes the body respond to the challenge of inviting a whole new approach to living.

The Waterloo Lung Association is sponsoring an adult breathing clinic beginning Thursday April 26, and a family breathing clinic beginning Wednesday April 25. For those interested in discussing asthma, its symptoms and treatments, call the lung association downtown for more information regarding clinics.

Copyright 2021 K.L. McCluskey, all rights reserved.