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Asthma & Exercise
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Asthma is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing. Many individuals with allergies have asthma, and having asthma increases the chance of allergies, including seasonal allergies, allergic eczema, and drug allergies. Together, asthma and allergies affect 1 out of 4 Americans. There is a genetic component to asthma. If one parent has asthma, the chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have asthma. If both parents are asthmatic, there is almost a 3 out of 4 chance of the offspring having this condition. There is no cure for asthma, but there are strategies to reduce the likelihood of an acute attack. Medications are available to help prevent symptoms from occurring, and there are also medications that can be taken if an asthmatic attack develops.
An estimated 20 million Americans have asthma. It results in almost a half a million hospitalizations a year. Every day in America, approximately 40,000 people miss work or school because of asthma, and 1,000 people are admitted to the hospital daily due to asthma. Approximately 30,000 people will have an asthma attack everyday in the U.S., and roughly 1 in 6 of these will have symptoms severe enough to cause them to go to the emergency room.
Triggers that can lead to an asthmatic attack include pollen, dust, viral respiratory infections, dust mites, certain medications, and strenuous physical activity. Weather can influence symptom onset. Cold, dry weather is known to be an asthma trigger, as is wet and windy weather.
Individuals with asthma can safely engage in many types of physical activity. In fact, exercise helps to improve heart health and circulation, maintain a healthy body weight, and boost the immune system. A program of regular physical activity elevates mood, reduces stress, and improves energy level. Resistance training preserves bone density, and increases muscle tone and strength.
It has been shown that a regular program of physical activity decrease the probability that exercise will trigger an asthma attack. There are several things to keep in mind about exercise if you have asthma. First, certain types of physical activity are better tolerated by those with this condition. Swimming is one of the best tolerated types of exercise. Cycling and walking are good exercise choices. If you have allergies to dust mites, exercising outdoors may be preferable. On the other hand, avoid exercising outdoors on cold, dry days. Warm, humid air is less likely to trigger an asthma attack. Exercise in the morning may be preferable to exercise in the evening. Avoid activities in polluted areas, such as near heavy traffic where there may be high levels of exhaust fumes. In general, start-and-stop activities or continuous exercise modalities that are done at moderate intensity may be better tolerated than prolonged intense exercise. Running at a fast pace can be an asthma trigger. Employ a gradual warm up phase when performing aerobic (cardiorespiratory) exercise, and also incorporate a cool down period of at least 5 minutes after exercising.
Exercise toward the lower end of target heart rate. Aim for a target heart rate of approximately 50-70% of the maximum for age, with the maximum being 220 minus the age in years. Alternatively, a subjective rating of perceived exertion may be a more useful and practical way to estimate exercise intensity. On a scale of 1-10, keep the difficulty of exercise in the range of approximately 4-6; with such a rating system, 1 is extremely easy and 10 is extremely difficult.
Strength training is unlikely to trigger an asthma attack, if rest is incorporated between sets. In fact, it is advised by the American College of Sports Medicine to strength train at least twice weekly, incorporating at least one exercise for each of the 8-10 major muscle groups. Each of these exercises should consist of approximately 8-12 repetitions of a given movement (such as the bench press for the chest, the biceps curl for the biceps, etc.).A library of exercises is available at:
The American College of Sports Medicine has health and fitness brochures available for anyone with an interest in sports medicine and exercise science. Such brochures can be obtained free of charge by sending a self-addressed stamped business-sized envelope to ACSM National Center, PO Box 1440, Indianapolis, Indiana 42606-1440. Many brochures are available free of charge through the internet as pdf files. This includes files on selecting and effectively using rubber band resistance exercise; selecting and effectively using stability balls; selecting and effectively using free weights; and selecting and effectively using home weights.
If you have asthma and use an inhaler, keep it handy when you exercise. Your doctor may advise pre-medicating with the inhaler within 30 minutes of exercise. Breathe through your nose as much as possible while exercising, and avoid hyperventilating or engaging in sudden intense exercise. It is a good idea to have a medical warning bracelet if you have significant allergies, severe asthma, or other medical conditions.
Make sure to obtain clearance from your doctor before beginning an exercise program.For more on exercise and asthma: