Asthma has become an area of great concern for doctors over the last few decades, as over 20 million Americans now suffer from this chronic respiratory disorder. Given its impact on the breathing process, many asthmatics are forced to make concessions to asthma, and find themselves barred from partaking in certain physical activities. Though asthma does impose its fair share of limitations on the human body, it is still very much possible for asthma sufferers to enjoy fulfilling exercise routines.
The Fast Facts on Asthma
Asthma occurs when the bronchial tubes inside the lungs become swollen and inflamed. These reactions are can usually be blamed on the body’s own immune system; essentially, the body overreacts to the presence of harmless particles inside the lungs, activating multiple types of immune cells to counter these “threats.” This overzealous response is bad news for the patient, who often experiences shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and feelings of tightness in the chest.
You would be correct in thinking that more people than ever have asthma; asthma diagnoses have soared 75% since the 1980s. Below are some additional stats that further illustrate the growth of this taxing and stressful condition:
- At least 22 million Americans have been diagnosed as asthmatic. Of this total, roughly 6.5 million are children.
- Asthma is so common in children that it causes students to miss 12.8 million school days ever year.
- Asthma exacts a heavy financial toll on the American economy, as nearly $20 billion is spent treating asthma patients annually.
- Though it is usually not lethal, about 4,000 Americans die each year from asthma.
- An estimated 500,000 people are hospitalized annually from asthma-related complications. Asthma also accounts for 1.8 million emergency room trips.
Exercising With Asthma
Asthma patients are frequently discouraged from engaging in certain physical activities. For example, people with asthma may struggle with playing soccer, basketball and long distance running. Sports played in cold outdoor environments, such as ice hockey and cross-country skiing, might also aggravate asthma symptoms. On the flip side of the coin, there are certain activities that pose relatively little risk to asthmatics. People with asthma are usually able to participate in baseball, volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics without experiencing ill aftereffects.
When it comes to hitting the gym, asthma patients also have a number of options when crafting an effective workout. If you or someone you know has asthma but would still like to exercise regularly, try giving some of these suggestions a chance (before getting started, however, you should probably seek the input of your doctor).
Low Impact Cardio – Low impact cardio activities allow asthmatics to get exercise without overexerting themselves. Exercises that qualify for the “low impact cardio” label include walking, biking or walking on a treadmill. If your body is not used to exercising, then its best to start off slowly, limiting your cardio exercise to 10 minute walking segments (try for about two segments daily). As your body becomes more acclimated to regular physical activity, you can try adding more exercises and increasing the length of your workouts.
Resistance Training – The term “resistance training” might sound a bit confusing, but it simply refers to repetitive exercises used to boost muscle strength. These exercises are generally performed with weights, weight machines and resistance bands. Beginners should opt for around two to three exercises that work either the upper or lower body. An asthmatic person trying to strengthen their upper body, for instance, might start out with a combination of pushups, bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.
Tai Chi – Though tai chi has only recently been introduced to Western cultures, this meditative art form has a rich history that extends back centuries. Research has linked tai chi to better balance, muscle strength and flexibility, among other benefits. Tai chi can also be especially useful to asthma patients; a 2008 study found that performing tai chi can alleviate asthma-related symptoms in some practitioners.
Swimming – As with tai chi, studies have suggested that swimming can ease the symptoms experienced by asthma patients. One such report comes courtesy of Taipei Medical University researchers, who published their findings in a 2009 issue of “Respirology,” the official journal of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology. According to this study, children aged 7 to 12 were much less likely to suffer asthma-induced health problems after taking a six week swimming course.