Winter Respiratory Care: How to Exercise Safely with Asthma in Cold Weather
The winter is tough on asthma, with the cold, dry weather of January and February being a potential cause of asthma attacks. But working out can help! Regular exercise can improve asthma symptoms by increasing lung capacity and reducing inflammation. A well-considered exercise plan guided by a medical professional is vital to ensuring you can exercise safely with asthma, so read on to learn what to discuss with your doctor about creating an exercise plan for you!
Not all instances of asthma are the same! While asthma is always chronic condition that causes the airways of your lungs to become inflamed and swollen, leading to wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing, different people will have different levels of sensitivity to environmental and physical triggers. Sometimes exercise itself can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms: this is known as exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Finding the right forms of activity to adapt to EIB can be a challenge.
What Can Exercise Do for Those with Asthma?
If you have asthma, it's vital that you speak with your healthcare provider about starting an exercise program, as they can help you find a program that fits your needs and physical condition. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits relevant to asthma and EIB:
- Improved lung capacity and stronger respiratory muscles.
- Reduced airway inflammation: regular exercise reduces inflammatory proteins, which are responsible for inflammation in the airways in those with asthma.
- Improved circulation and better oxygen utilization.
- Stronger cardiovascular health.
- Increased energy, endurance, and stamina.
- Better quality sleep.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Reduced body fat.
- Increased strength and muscle tone.
Exercise Options for People with Asthma
Most exercise forms are achievable even for those with EIB, but these are among the most beneficial:
- Stretching: Improves flexibility and helps you warm up while preventing muscle strain and injury. Can also include mindfulness exercises like yoga and Tai Chi.
- Swimming: One of the most recommended exercises for people with asthma, due to its reduced risk of triggering asthma symptoms. This is because you're breathing in moist, warm air in an environment with lower pollen exposure. The pressure of the water on your chest also helps you build upper body and respiratory strength.
- Walking and Hiking: Any form of walking is a low-intensity exercise that can help you increase lung capacity when done regularly. It can also be done indoors, such as around an indoor track or on a machine like a treadmill, if outdoor weather conditions might trigger asthma symptoms.
- Biking: Riding a bike can be strenuous, but if you stick to flat, level elevations the momentum of the bike can make for a gentle, steady workout.
- Sports with Short Bursts of Activity: Sports that include breaks between plays can help you stay active while putting less strain on your lungs. This can include baseball, softball, golf, volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, short-distance track & field (like sprints), and even football.
This is not to say you can't participate in sports with a continuous activity level! Everyone has an appropriate activity level, and if you're regularly active, yours may involve more strenuous sports like soccer and basketball. But the activities above are the most commonly recommended ones and easiest to adapt to different forms of asthma.
Tips for Exercising with Asthma and EIB
When embarking on an exercise program, you'll want to ask your doctor a lot of questions about working out most safely and effectively with your asthma. You may have questions about:
- Using medication: Always have your asthma medication available as well as any devices like a spacer. Be alert for asthma symptoms developing during exercise; if they do, stop and take your reliever medication. For those with EIB, always use your pre-exercise medicine (most commonly a rescue inhaler with a bronchodilator).
- Adjusting to weather: Avoid exercising when the air is cool and dry. Cold, dry air can tighten your airways, so in cooler weather you may want to exercise with a mask or scarf, or just exercise indoors. Keep track of pollen counts and air pollution counts if you have allergic asthma.
- Adjusting to activity: Warm-up exercises and an appropriate cool down period after a workout will help gradually raise and lower your heart rate and breathing rate, placing less stress on your lungs.
- Sticking to a regular routine: It helps to set achievable daily goals, as regular exercise will increase your lung capacity.
- Knowing your limits: Restrict or suspend exercise when you're sick, particularly if you have a viral respiratory infection like a cold. Pay attention to your symptoms and know when to take breaks and stop exercising.
Breathing effectively is important during physical activity. Remember to:
- Inhale (breathe in) before starting an exercise motion and exhale (breathe out) during the most difficult part of an exercise.
- Take slow breaths and pace yourself.
- Purse your lips while breathing out.
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- Menthol: Its cooling sensation numbs pain, providing immediate relief, while it widens blood vessels to improve circulation and deliver more oxygen and nutrients to damaged areas.
- MSM: Prevents breakdown of connective tissue like ligaments and reduces inflammation.
- Spearmint: Soothes pain and muscle contractions, reducing stress on the foot.
- Aloe Vera: Anti-inflammatory plant that promotes faster muscle recovery.
- Camphor: Cooling pain reliever that reduces swelling from injury and increases circulation.
- Vitamin E: Reduces muscle soreness and encourages muscle rebuilding, strengthening the foot's support.
- Green Tea Extract: Powerful antioxidant that reduces the oxidative stress that can cause inflammation.
- Arnica Flower: Relieves inflammation and muscle soreness while improving circulation.
- Turmeric: Inhibits inflammatory response while promoting deep absorption of ingredients, fighting pain at its source.
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Please consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional before stopping or starting any medications, supplements, or health regimens.