Don’t Let Exercise-Induced Asthma Keep You Sidelined

(December 29, 2010)

It’s that time of year again when New Year resolutions are on everyone’s mind. Topping the list for many Americans is the personal pledge to start (and keep) an exercise regimen for the year.  Staying active has many benefits to your overall health and wellbeing, but if you have asthma you may feel stressed or limited in your activities. Here are a few helpful hints from the American Lung Association as you strive for a healthier new you in 2011.

Talk with your doctor.  Tell your doctor what physical activities you would like to participate in, and the symptoms you experience during exercise.  Together, you can create an asthma management plan that keeps you in the game and not on the sidelines.  Check out the Staying Active with Exercise-Induced Asthma Office Checklist to help guide the conversation at you next doctor’s visit. Starting an exercise regimen may be scary for those with exercise-induced asthma. Remember to share any concerns or fears you may have with your physician. The American Lung Association also offers strategies to help you better manage your stress.

Keep medications on hand. Make sure to use your medications as prescribed.   Your doctor may recommend that you take your quick-relief medicine prior to activity to help avoid an asthma episode. Make sure to keep your quick-relief medicine (i.e. Albuterol) close by in case you have trouble breathing.  Use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have symptoms of an asthma episode.  Check out additional information on asthma medicines before you get started.

Modify exercise as needed. Depending on the severity of your asthma, you may need to make modifications to your exercise routine. A Peak Flow Meter and a written Asthma Action Plan are tools that can help to guide your activities while keeping you healthy and safe.

  • Remember that warming up and cooling down are key if you have exercise –induced asthma. Depending on your Peak Flow reading and Asthma Action Plan, it may be helpful to increase the amount of time spent on warm-ups and cool downs.
  • If needed, modify your exercise to lower the intensity or increase the number of rest periods during the activity.

Be aware of gym & indoor training environments. Many people flock to local gyms and training facilities in the cold months of winter. While this can protect you from the harsh weather outside, the closed spaces may increase your risk of being exposed to many asthma triggers as well as germs.  

  • Scope out possible indoor asthma triggers. Some chemical cleaners used in these locations may be an asthma trigger for you. If the facility includes a pool, chlorine and other pool chemicals, this may also impact your workout.  Make sure to thoroughly check out the facilities before you become engaged in high intensity activity. Look for well ventilated spaces that will reduce your exposure to mildew, mold and other asthma triggers.
  • Stay healthy, get vaccinated! Since many people stay indoors during the winter months, influenza can be easily spread in these closed environments. Make sure to clean your gym equipment prior to use and wash your hands frequently. Find out more about the flu.
  • Keep your trainer informed by using an Asthma Action Plan. The Asthma Action Plan should specify what to do in case of a breathing emergency as well as to make suggestions to modify your activity depending on your Peak Flow readings. It’s important to communicate with your trainer if you need longer warm-up and cool-downs or additional rest periods during activity.

Prepare for the Great Outdoors. Just as indoor environments can have hidden asthma triggers so can outdoor environments. Understanding your asthma triggers and scoping out your surroundings are the best ways to prevent an emergency.

  • Scope out possible outdoor asthma triggers. While outdoor allergens are usually quite low in winter months, leaf burning and chimney smoke can aggravate asthma if you decide to take your activities outside.
  • Stay warm while being active. Many people find that weather changes or cold wind can bring on symptoms of an asthma episode. Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather and keep a scarf handy to cover your mouth during outdoor hikes and walks.
  • Monitor air quality forecasts to stay healthy. Air pollution can be very high in the winter. Those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being harmed by air pollution. Keep informed about the air quality outside before beginning outdoor physical activities. Learn more about the Air Quality Index.

Remember, this is also the perfect opportunity to think about making other healthy, New Year resolutions. Check out Freedom From Smoking Online for additional information to help you, a friend or family member quit smoking.