Asthma is a condition that can catch sufferers off guard. One moment they may be enjoying outdoor activities, breathing easily and with their symptoms under control, and the next moment they may experience coughing, wheezing, or tightness in their chest and lungs. However, this doesn't mean that exercise should be avoided altogether. In fact, research over the past two decades has shown that physical activity can actually help improve lung function and overall quality of life for those with asthma.
Exercise has been found to reduce inflammatory cytokines, which are small protein molecules that aid in cell communication, and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines. This can help to calm chronic airway inflammation and alleviate asthma symptoms. Additionally, as fitness improves, asthma patients often report better sleep, reduced stress, improved weight control, and fewer days with symptoms, sometimes even allowing them to reduce their medication doses.
For those who are new to exercise, it's important to start slowly and carefully. The Global Initiative for Asthma recommends twice-weekly cardio and strength training, beginning with light loads in the weight room and short, easy walks. It's crucial to consult a healthcare professional before starting a new activity or increasing the intensity of a program, especially if asthma interferes with a workout.
When exercising outdoors, air quality should also be taken into consideration, particularly during times when smoke and particulates from wildfires can trigger asthma symptoms. Temperature and humidity extremes can also pose risks, as cold, dry air can dehydrate and constrict the airways, making it difficult to breathe.
Different types of exercise can be considered, with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) showing promise for those with asthma. HIIT allows for intermittent recovery of the airways, preventing dehydration and potential triggers for exercise-induced asthma. Strength training, which involves short periods of exertion with ample rest, is another option.
Ultimately, the worst choice for individuals with asthma is to avoid exercise altogether. Inactivity can lead to increased risk of obesity and its associated health problems. It also makes it much harder to move when necessary. Therefore, any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all.