Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
If you’ve ever grown up with asthma, you may know the feeling of being the kid that could never keep up. While everyone else was having their fun, you’d be the one wheezing for air, always having a hard time. It may sound sad, but that’s the reality that many children – myself included – faced while growing up.
What is asthma? Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition where your airways have the tendency to spasm or constrict, often in response to stress or environmental factors. Most often, asthma starts in childhood but is commonly seen in adults as well.1 The classical symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing;1,3 Under certain conditions, asthma can suddenly worsen in what’s known as a “flare-up.” During a flare-up, symptoms can suddenly become very severe, and it can often feel as if it takes every ounce of effort you have to simply breathe. Because it starts so young, children growing up often find it difficult to play or keep up with their friends. On the other hand, adults with asthma can find it challenging to pursue an active lifestyle. But is it possible for those with asthma to stay in shape and be active?
Does asthma ever go away?
The reality is, asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that never truly goes away. However, current evidence shows that as little as 30 minutes of mild to moderate exercise can help control symptoms associated with asthma.2 A recent study showed that asthmatic individuals who followed a regular workout routine had symptom control that was almost twice as good as those who didn’t exercise.2 That means fewer symptoms and less need for medications. Even though it may seem backwards, staying active can help control your asthma, which in turn can make it even easier for you to keep up with your work or gym routine.
What’s the best way to workout with asthma?
The main thing to consider is that for most people, asthma is unnoticeable on a regular basis, but tends to flare up in response to certain triggers. You may have heard these flare-ups referred to as asthma attacks before. The most common triggers include:1
- Sudden drying of the airways, which usually happens more the faster you breathe
- Cold air
- Stress or anxiety
In short, this means individuals with asthma should be cautious when outside in the cold. It’s recommended that those with asthma work-out indoors as much as possible. Also, asthmatic individuals should always start workouts with a slow and gradual warm-up to avoid flare-ups, especially if they’re outside in the cold. Lastly, any individual with asthma should always have their rescue puffer on hand in case of emergencies.
The most common rescue medication for those with lung conditions is Salbutamol, also known as Ventolin.® This drug is inhaled through a small puffer and works to re-open airways within minutes.3 Speak with your healthcare provider if you have asthma, and you don’t have one of these.
One thing to note is Salbutamol isn’t only for emergencies. Some individuals have what’s called Exercise Induced Asthma, where they only ever have difficulties breathing when they start to work out. These people can use their puffer before their workout to help prevent their symptoms.1,3
With all that said, prevention is more important than treatment; anyone who regularly experiences bothersome symptoms of asthma should speak with their health care provider about long-term control medications. But at the end of the day, having asthma doesn’t mean you’ll never be athletic, or physically fit. Including regular exercise into your lifestyle can help you manage your condition, and maybe even minimize medications.
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- Bacon, S. )., Moullec, G. )., Pepin, V. )., Lavoie, K. )., Lemiere, C. )., & Ninot, G. ). (2015). Association between patterns of leisure time physical activity and asthma control in adult patients. BMJ Open Respiratory Research, 2(1), 1-7. doi:10.1136/bmjresp-2015-000083