Does the thought of a strenuous bike ride or vigorous jog make your chest tighten? You’re not alone.
Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) — the narrowing of your airways and the consequent wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath that occur with vigorous exercise — is more common than you might think. About 80 percent of people with asthma experience these types of symptoms when they run fast or for long distances.
Having EIA, however, is no reason to avoid exercise (let’s face it: There really are very few reasons to avoid exercise). Regular aerobic exercise helps lower your weight and lift your mood — both important factors to managing asthma. And, of course, regular workouts can improve your self-image and give you a sense of control — no small thing when you’re living with a chronic condition.
The Cold, Dry Truth
Let’s clear a few things out of the way: If you have asthma, your wheezing and shortness of breath are not due to being in poor physical condition. And building up your cardio quotient, while benefiting you in other ways, is not going to “condition” your lungs into an asthma-free state.
EIA occurs because the lining of your bronchial tubes is highly sensitive to changes in both air temperature and humidity. Under resting conditions, you breathe through your nose, which warms and humidifies the air; when you switch to mouth breathing during exercise, you bring cold, dry air (even during summer) right into your lungs. Your airways’ linings swell up; the smooth muscles that surround your bronchi spasm, reducing airflow and making it difficult to breathe.
Up, Up With Exercise
The good news is that with the right medication, warm-up techniques and even nutrition, almost anyone with asthma can enjoy any sport. Yes, that’s right: any sport.
While for years, people with asthma were told about “good” and “bad” activities — swimming was good because of the warm, humid pool air; cross-country skiing was bad because of the cold, dry winter air — a new wisdom is emerging: Choose any exercise you like, and do it regularly. Here’s how to take advantage of the upsides of exercise:
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