From elite professional athletes to those just starting out, keeping fit and active is an important aspect of lung health. Benefits from exercising not only include fitness and maintaining a healthy weight, but also help strengthen breathing muscles in your chest improving lung performance.
Endorphins, otherwise known as our happy hormones are released when we exercise, providing emotional benefit and promoting better sleep.
Exercise induced asthma occurs in a high proportion of those with chronic asthma. Some people only experience asthma symptoms when exercising and not when exposed to other classic triggers such as dust mites, pollen or mould to name a few. This can be also known as exercise induced bronchospasm. Often these suffers are sensitive to temperature changes and humidity. Whilst statistically 1 in 8 New Zealand adults have asthma, 15-25% of athletes have exercise induced asthma symptoms.
Even at Olympic level it has been stated that up to 20% of athletes have asthma or take inhalers for symptoms.
Asthmatics are encouraged to regularly exercise within their abilities, but for many, the colder weather whist participating in outdoor endurance sports can trigger asthma symptoms. Classic winter sports such as rugby, football, netball, skiing/snow sports and cross country running among others, are often undertaken in the cold. For those who find cold air and temperature changes trigger their asthma symptoms, the likelihood of having an asthma attack may increase. Too often we see asthmatic students at schools who claim they have been sitting of the side lines during winter sports because they or their teachers are fearful of having an asthma attack.
Good asthma control with proper training can minimise the chance of having an asthma attack. Some of the recommendations for asthmatics who wish to participate in outdoor sports during the colder weather include;
- Continue to take Preventative medication (inhalers) as directed by your physician even if feeling well.
- Always follow your current asthma action plan
- Take Reliever medication (inhaler) 5-20 minutes prior to exercising to help prevent the onset of symptoms for up to 4-6 hrs.
- Warm up prior to vigorous exercise and cool down on completion.
- Wear layers of clothing that can be easily removed once warm, and ensure you stay warm in between quarters/halves of when off the field/court
- Try wearing a scarf or face mask if the weather is especially cold.
- Consider training indoors, or taking up sports such as swimming
- Although difficult in strenuous activity, practise focusing on breathing through your nose instead of mouth whilst exercising. This is because nose breathing helps warm and saturate air decreasing the chance of asthma symptoms
- Professional/elite athletes should check the list of approved and prohibited medications with their relevant board/committee
- If unwell with a cold /virus, rest and restrict exercise whilst recovering
There is no need to let exercise induced asthma symptoms stop you from leading an active life or achieving your sports goals. Happy training!!
Brianna Hoskin - Asthma NZ Nurse Educator
Reference: webmd.com/asthma/features/athletes-guide-exercise induced asthma 2007