One of the best ways to care for your respiratory system is good exercise. And if your asthma is well controlled, there’s no reason it should stop you from getting the blood pumping. Regular workouts strengthen and build your lung capacity, so there’s no time like the present to try out a new hobby.
The ancient Chinese martial art tai chi isn’t just confined to the mountain homes of Taoist monks. It’s accessible to many, with classes in community halls, parks, and sports centres around the world.
Tai chi’s slow and steady movements can help you build strength and lung capacity without too much strain or high impact exertion. One element of the discipline, ‘qigong’, focuses on breathing in tune with your poses, helping to develop further control over your airways.
Various studies report tai chi increases your lung capacity, stamina in exercise, and even quality of life. It’s widely accepted as a great sport to do in tandem with asthma treatment and it’s pretty relaxing too!
For the water enthusiasts among you, a lung condition doesn’t mean waving goodbye to the waves. Far from it – it’s thought the warmth and high humidity of your local pool can make breathing easier than in other sports. A few lengths will not only increase your aerobic fitness but may even help ease asthma symptoms, according to a study in New Zealand’s Sports Medicine journal. Other water exercises, such as water aerobics, are good for building your strength.
That said, for some people with asthma, the chlorine in the water may trigger an asthma attack. So, as with all exercise, it’s about what works for you. If swimming does float your boat, warming up and down properly can help keep your airways happy. Also, remember to take your medicine if your doctor has recommended using it before exercising.
When you think of exercise equipment, a garden trowel isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. But tending your pots, pruning your bushes, and mowing the lawn can all count towards your exercise goals. Horticulture has proven physical and mental health benefits, and what’s more, you don’t have to go further than your own front yard.
You can choose just how gently or strenuously to take it, so you can vary your activity based on how you’re feeling that day. At its most intense, gardening can burn up to 500 calories an hour, so pottering about with the plants can offer a real workout.
And if you’re concerned about asthma triggers in the garden, there’s plenty you can do to help lessen them. Checking the pollen count, keeping grass short, and considering organic gardening to avoid exposure to harsh chemicals may all help you on your way. Perhaps ask your local garden centre for hypoallergenic plants too. Yet, the best prevention is to make sure your asthma is well managed and your action plan up to date.
A kickabout with friends might be just the ticket if your local COVID-19 restrictions allow it. If you can combine exercise with having a good laugh with some mates, then what is there not to love?
Team ball sports, like football or netball, are especially good options for folks with lung conditions. Short bursts of activity followed by a quick recovery rest can give your airways a good workout without overdoing it.
Similarly, dance classes allow you to express yourself creatively while also getting in a good workout at your own pace. With so many genres, from ballroom to ballet, even to chair-based ballet – maybe you can find a class near you or try out online tutorials. Sometimes something as simple as turning your work meetings into walking meetings will give you that needed activity boost while keeping your social distancing.
Having a chronic lung condition doesn’t mean more intense activities are out of the question either. With the proper training, it is quite possible for someone with asthma to run a marathon or even do some extreme or adventure sports. Indeed, record-breaking British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe lives with asthma, as do many elite athletes.
Training properly is key, so you may want to work closely with a running group, coach or gym. Exercising in warm air can help, but it’s most important to pace yourself. No matter how big your goal is, the most important thing is to make sure your asthma is kept under control with preventive medication. So, remember to talk with your doctor and follow your asthma action plan to make sure your asthma won’t slow you down.
By Esther Beadle
Photo by iStock
Bar-Or, O., Inbar, O. (1992). ‘Swimming and Asthma’. Sports Medicine 14, 397–405. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1470792/
Schmutz, Ulrich & Lennartsson, Margi & Williams, Sarah & Devereaux, Maria & Davies, Gareth. (2014). The benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing. 10.13140/RG.2.1.3703.5289. https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/sites/www.gardenorganic.org.uk/files/GrowingHealth_BenefitsReport_0.pdf
Sharma, M and Haider, T. (2013). ‘Tai Chi as an Alternative and Complementary Therapy for Patients With Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Systematic Review’ in Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, Volume: 18 issue: 3, page(s): 209-215 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2156587213478174
Soga, Gaston and Yamaura, (2016). ‘Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis’ in Preventive Medicine Reports Volume 5, March 2017, Pages 92-99 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007
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