It is important to note that depending on the severity of your condition, and on your general medical history, you may need to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime. Physical exercise is essential for every asthma sufferer. In fact physical exercise and plenty of it is beneﬁcial for everyone – asthma sufferer or not – but unfortunately the modern lifestyle very often encourages long periods of inactivity. Exer- cise should not be limited to young people or people involved in sport; it is beneﬁcial to everyone provided that they exercise within their own limits. I have taught children as young as four and adults up to eighty-eight years old. The advice is the same to each and every one of them – spend as much time outdoors as possible and take some form of exercise.
People attending work-related training courses will be familiar with the mantra that applies to any newly learned skill: use it or lose it. This is as true for our bodies as for our minds and it is especially true for asthma sufferers. The human body was designed to lead a physically active life, therefore continued good health and well-being requires some degree of exercise. Over the years research has consistently shown that, compared to those who take little or no exercise, people who exercise regularly are healthier, live longer, have greater inner calmness, are more content and cope better with life’s stresses and strains.
Unfortunately, as asthma often limits physical capabilities, the tendency is to try to avoid asthma attacks by avoiding exercise. This has been proven in a number of studies that have shown people with asthma have lower cardiovascular fitness than those who do not have asthma. A major step towards improving asthma is to take plenty of exercise and to take it regularly, but to stay within individual physical capabilities when doing so. Many researchers have recommended this lifestyle practice for all children and adults with asthma.
There are two big differences between our lifestyle and that of a couple of generations ago: they tended to eat less and more healthily and had a far more physically active lifestyle (even if they had never heard the phrase). Nowadays we have fallen into a sedentary routine – one that is having a disastrous effect on the health of the nation. Few of us walk or cycle to work, we drive or are driven and few of us have jobs that require much serious physical effort. Many of us do take exercise during our free time but many more are addicted to TV and/or the pub culture.
Young people follow a similar pattern and in the educational rat race that is a by-product of the Irish points system there is less and less time given to sport or indeed any form of physical activity. However, educational research shows that a good balance between sporting activity and study is extremely beneﬁcial for students.
Most of our day is spent sitting and, as if this wasn’t enough for the body to contend with, we then add stress, smoking, overeating and eating inappropriately. It is no wonder that the population of the western world is becoming less and less healthy and, as a result, putting more and more pressure on national health services. As one commentator suggested: ‘If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.’
Taking exercise that is appropriate for the body helps to strengthen the immune system, gives the body more energy and builds up strength. We need to exercise and those who suffer from asthma need it most.
What sort of exercise?
It seems that the answer to the question is: whatever sort of exercise you like. Commencing exercise after a long period of minimal physical activity requires a number of points to be considered ﬁrst. Go for something you like doing, or could get to like. If you’re into record keeping, then by all means chart your progress, but it isn’t essential. Just try to achieve a little more each week; you’ll know yourself how you’re doing. Slow and steady is the way to go. Don’t be too ambitious when starting off, but do try to progress week to week – walk, or cycle, jog or swim further, faster and for longer.
Exercise within your capabilities. Try not to miss a day – make your daily exercise routine a priority. Beware of over training, you won’t enjoy it and it won’t help you in the longer term. Get out into the open air whenever you can, it’s healthier and also enjoying yourself will help you to feel better. We should exercise because we enjoy it and because we feel better for it. Adopting the attitude that ‘taking exercise is a drag’ will make success difﬁcult. Even if the physical activ- ity is not enjoyable at ﬁrst because it may represent a major lifestyle change, try to stick with it or perhaps try a different activity. Eventually it will become enjoyable; after all, it is what the body was designed for.
There are gyms all over the country and these are ideal during the winter, or when the weather is bad. However exercising outdoors beats any gym and there is a whole range of options in this ﬁeld.
Depending on which part of the country you live in, it is possible to walk by the sea, along a river or canal bank, or by the shores of a lake and there are still country lanes not infested with speeding trafﬁc. Alternatively just walk around your own town or city – you should be able to ﬁnd somewhere to go and you may even have a park nearby.
If personal preference or necessity, or a sociable nature, means opting for the indoors alternative then a gym is the next best thing. The exercise bike is a good alternative to cycling on roads (and a lot safer), rowing machines are pleasant to use, climbing machines are easier on the joints than the treadmills, but there’s a whole range of exercise options available. Swimming proves very beneﬁcial for people with asthma, and swimming is a topic that will be discussed in a later blog.
Exercise is a very good and, in fact, essential element in controlling asthma. While exercise is very beneﬁcial in temporarily increasing carbon dioxide levels and condition- ing the body to accept a higher level, it does not change the underlying breathing pattern. Reduced breathing by relaxa- tion is the only breathing exercise that will do this. For example, exercising diligently for an hour each day then spending the rest of the day going about with the mouth open causes the beneﬁts accrued from the increased carbon dioxide to be lost.