Professional Racecar Driver's Tips for Exercising with Asthma
The relationship between exercise and asthma might seem confusing: If asthma is a lung disease that makes it harder for you to breathe, then wouldn’t exercise seemingly be out of the question? Quite the contrary! Implementing physical activity is a critical component in controlling and actually improving the way your body copes with the disease. My name is TJ Fischer. I’m an American professional racecar driver, former collegiate football player and a person who has lived with asthma for the better part of 24 years. Here are a few of my tips for exercising with asthma:
1. Pre-Workout Checklist
Before doing any physical activity, I go through my pre-workout checklist. First, I scan my body briefly to make sure I'm not even slightly searching for breath. Then, I check on the air quality. Sometimes (like in California, where I live) uncontrollable situations that worse the air quality levels and make it difficult for those with lung diseases to be even be outside. We saw this last year with wildfires during November and December when then air quality levels were labeled "very unhealthy"; I spent almost five days indoors because the air quality and asthma triggers caused so much inflammation in my lungs. You can check how your area’s air quality measures in the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report and daily levels wherever you get your weather forecasts or by visiting www.airnow.gov Next, I do a brisk jog around the block and back. This is simply to see what happens when my heart rate goes up, and usually if I'm nearing an asthma episode, I’ll feel some wheezing in that brief jog. The real trick is to just be aware of symptoms.
2. Know Your Triggers, Scan Your Surroundings
Knowing your triggers is crucial. The ability to predict your surroundings and how your body will react to those conditions can make a big difference. For an example, one of my triggers is pollen. I'm generally most affected by pollen during the spring months because all the plants are blooming. This means, I have to avoid pollen, which can be hard, and limit the amount of time I can spend outside. I also have to check the wind as it can carry pollen, dust and other allergens several miles from where it originated and trigger my asthma. Finally, I have to know what route I am taking to the gym or my workout location. Sometimes there are neighboring businesses that emit a high amount of air pollutant or potentially smog laden areas that could trigger asthma symptoms, so I will have to adjust. Whatever your trigger is, note when and where it shows up the most. The more knowledge you gather, the better prepared you will be.
3. Prevention First
Sometimes it is necessary for me to take a dose of my rescue inhaler before going on a run, doing a workout in a new city or even getting in my racecar. If I have any indication that I might have even the slightest of symptoms, it is best to be preventative and take a dose of my rescue inhaler before it becomes a problem. For me, I know right away to call it quits when I actually start to experience fatigue in my collarbone area from trying to breathe too hard. Everyone is different though, and the most important thing is that you are aware of the signs your body is giving you. It may be even a good idea to pre-medicate before you exercise, if your healthcare provider has advised you to do so. And by all means, bring your rescue inhaler with you on your run or bike ride! Theres nothing worse than the thought of forgetting your inhaler and it's three miles from where you just came from (when you need it the most). Pocket it or stuff it in your sock. Do whatever you need to do to have that rescue inhaler with you.
4. Talk to Your Doctor
These are the tips that work for me, but it's best to consult your doctor with any questions you may have before implementing anything new. You can also work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan. With all things asthma management, you have to find what works for you.
Learn more about asthma management at Lung.org/asthma.
TJ Fisher, a professional racecar driver, is an advocate for asthma awareness and founder of Project O2, a foundation dedicated to the awareness and education of asthma with the ultimate goal to create a practical roadmap for living a normal life with asthma. He also authored an EACH Breath blog post about having an asthma attack during a race.