According to Asthma UK there are approximately 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, around 1 in 11 of which are children. If you don’t have the condition – chances are you know and care about someone who does.
But given how familiar we are with asthma in this country, there are still a lot of misconceptions associated with it – particularly when it comes to exercise. It’s an easy leap to link exercise with breathlessness and therefore dismiss it as not possible or suitable for asthma sufferers.
The truth is, as long you are looking after your asthma i.e. you have your symptoms under control with a suitable management plan, exercising and improving fitness levels can really help improve wellbeing and in many cases actually severity of asthma symptoms.
Love your lungs and take a weight off
Regular physical activity can help strengthen lungs, boost stamina and improve breathing, which is good news for anyone with asthma – in fact a very common scenario people report is having to use their reliever inhalers less and less the more their fitness levels develop.
Of course another positive side effect of increased activity levels can be weight loss, particularly if accompanied by a healthy diet. Carrying excessive weight is a known risk factor for developing asthma and numerous studies show that obese people find their asthma much harder to control. Shedding some pounds can make a significant difference.
Swimming – don’t believe the doubters
Swimming often gets a raw deal in discussions concerning asthma, the most common misconception being that the humidity of a pool environment plus the physical exertion required to swim is a bad combination. In fact the opposite is true.
Because the air is warmer and contains more moisture, the impact on the bronchial tubes is actually lessened (airways don’t dry out and contract as much as they might with cooler air). Swimming regularly is also a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, helping to strengthen lung and heart function.
Find the right activity for you
Of course swimming isn’t the only suitable activity you can try. There is no reason why any sport, fitness class or activity should be off limits – and remember, what works well for one person might not suit another at all so the key is to give things a go.
That said, for anyone with asthma who is nervous about getting started, simply building in more walking to your weekly routine is a great idea. As well as being very accessible it will help build familiarity with, and tolerance to, aerobic exercise. A lot of people also find team ball sports that involve short bursts of high intensity activity followed by rest periods, an attractive option. Pilates – which focuses on breathing and building core body strength, is another activity I would recommend to try out.
Stay safe and be aware of symptoms
Regular exercise is good for asthma and shouldn’t ever prevent anyone from enjoying physical activity, after all 1 in 12 Olympic athletes take asthma medication. But it is still important to stay safe.
If you do use medication such as inhalers, make sure you always have them to hand. If you are taking part in an instructor-led activity, it is a good idea to let them know about your condition so that they can advise you if it might be better to adapt and of the exercises. For other activities, just while you are starting out and if you are nervous, it might be worth inviting a friend to join you. It’s always fun to exercise with friends.
Any finally remember, if at any point during exercise you do start to struggle with your breathing or feel any tightness in your chest, stop and use your relief inhaler – in most cases this will help. However, if your symptoms do persist it is important to seek medical advice.
Don’t fret about the figures
Finally, should people with asthma do as much exercise as people without the condition? It’s a question often posed and one to which I always give the same reply – it is all about the individual.
The Government advises that adults should do around 150 minutes of exercise a week and that young people, under the age of 16 and over 5, should be active for about an hour every day. With the right management plan in place there is no reason at all why asthma should be a barrier to this. My advice? Don’t be pre-occupied with how much or how little you should be doing, instead focus on finding activities that suit you and your lifestyle.