Close to 30 million adults and children in the United States have asthma. According to published reports, it costs the U.S. healthcare system approximately $11.3 billion per year.
A growing number of doctors and researchers are starting to see promise in exercise as a way to make lasting improvements in breathing for people with asthma. Although a long-standing belief was that asthma prevents people from doing regular physical activity, emerging evidence from research studies is showing that certain kinds of exercise can help.
The kind of program that seems to work is one that starts slowly and builds in duration and intensity. Because vigorous exercise actually induces asthma attacks in an estimated 10-15 percent of all people with asthma, not many studies have yet been conducted.
However, a review of nearly 40 small pilot studies that was published in the May 2005 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that asthma patients who took part in fitness activities three to five times per week over 18 weeks used less medication, had fewer doctor visits and reported decreased exercise-related fear and anxiety than before starting their exercise routines. In fact, the review cited evidence that inactivity is a factor in the increase of asthma prevalence and severity.
It is possible that, over time, physical activity can increase endurance as patients become better conditioned. At the same time, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology cautiously recommends exercise to asthma sufferers, and points out that exercise intensity and tolerance vary by individual and asthma type.
The key is to find the activity that works for you. Decreasing exercise-induced panting, while treating airway inflammation, are two goals for asthma-oriented exercise programs.
The first step is to check with your doctor to make sure you are a candidate for an exercise program.
Start with easy aerobics or with brisk walking for 5 minutes each day the first week or two. If you feel short of breath, rest or slow down. The third week, gradually increase your walking time by a few minutes. The fourth, try walking 15 minutes at a time. As you feel stronger, continue to challenge yourself, maybe even with jogging for a few minutes during your walk.
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAA), swimming can help people who have exercise-induced asthma. The warm, humid atmosphere, toning of upper body muscles, and the horizontal position can help mobilize mucus in the bottom of the lungs. And indoor pools make swimming available year-round. Other types of exercise that may work well are leisure biking, hiking, golfing and easy cardio dance. If you try outdoor activity in cold weather, wearing a scarf or surgical mask can decrease symptoms by warming the inhaled air.
Build up your endurance by moving more often in general throughout the day – whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving to nearby stores, or using a rake in the yard instead of a leaf blower.