Exercising With Asthma

From a reader:
As a fitness enthusiast, I read your column all the time. My query isn't about me but about my surrogate brother. He wants to lose weight but exercising is proving to be a challenge because he developed asthma or what appears to be an asthma-like condition. What exercises can you recommend for him? He used to train with weights in our home gym as well as use our non-motorized treadmill but lately, it's been hard for him. Thank you in advance for your help.

It sounds contradictory that something that is good for you can also be bad for you. If you have asthma, exercise is beneficial because it makes it easier to perform normal daily activities with less shortness of breath. However, exercise can also bring on an asthma attack known as "exercise-induced asthma" with the resultant chest tightness, wheezing and breathlessness. This can be both discouraging and confusing if you are an asthmatic and you want to get fit. Well, here's something to encourage you. The May 1997 issue of Sports Medicine Digest reports that at the 1984 summer Olympic games, 67 of the 597 U.S. athletes were diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. These 67 athletes competed in 29 events and won 41 medals - including 15 gold medals!

Exercise-induced asthma.
Doctors used to think that "exercise-induced asthma" was a totally different kind of asthma. Now they believe it is just one aspect of the disease. In people with mild asthma, physical exertion may be the only thing that sets off an attack. For people with more severe asthma, exercise is one among the many other factors that can trigger an attack.

No single solution.
Asthma specialist Robert Lemanske, Jr., MD, of the University of Wisconsin stresses that there is no single solution for exercise-induced asthma. What works for one person may not work for another. He says that you cannot completely block the exercise-induced asthma response but you can lessen it so you can still reap the benefits of exercise.

Many asthmatics can prevent their asthma attacks from happening during exercise by lengthening the warm-up period or lowering exercise intensity but others have no choice but to use short-acting inhaled medication minutes before exercise or long-term asthma medications. Your doctor is the best person who would know what kind of medication you need to be able to exercise comfortably and safely.

Choose your exercise carefully.
According to James Rimmer, Ph.D., in an article about exercising with disabilities (May 1997 IDEA Today), the activities known to cause the most problems for people with asthma are high-impact aerobics and start-stop activities, such as racquetball and basketball, which cause the breathing rate to increase rapidly. Rimmer says that anaerobic activities like weight lifting and stretching exercises are generally safe for most people with asthma.

Low to moderate intensity swimming is usually a recommended exercise activity because the warm moist air prevents the air passageways from drying out and triggering an attack.

Exercise guidelines.

Go to archive...