Over 25 million people in the United States alone suffer from asthma. The incidence of asthma in Americans has gone up 75% in the last fifteen years due to urbanization. Seventy percent of those who suffer from asthma also suffer from allergies. Asthma accounts for one-quarter of all emergency room visits in the United States each year, and the costs associated with asthma in the US add up to $18 billion annually.
Prescription drugs represent the largest single direct medical expenditure of over $5 billion each year. Children suffer from asthma at a rate of four times as much as adults, and the incidence of asthma in children has gone up 160% since 1984.
Asthma seems to have a link to ethnicity, gender, and can be inherited. Asthma prevalence is 39% higher in African Americans than in whites. The prevalence of asthma in adult females is 35% greater than the rate in males. Approximately 40% of children who have asthmatic parents will also develop asthma.
Asthma is an airway disease caused by swelling of the smooth muscle of the airways and an increased secretion of the mucus membranes. It is referred to as a chronic obstruction pulmonary disease. It is reversible, if controlled by medication, but it cannot be cured. Most asthma attacks are not life threatening and individuals usually recover within 30 to 60 minutes without treatment after an asthma attack.
Signs of asthma include coughing, gagging, allergic reaction to dust, pollen, chemical substances, smoke, and air pollution. Wheezing, tightness, or a burning sensation in the chest, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, stress, and shortness of breath are common signs of asthma.
Cold air is a common trigger for asthma, as are changes in humidity or temperature, household cleaner fumes, perfume, flowers, medicines, and colds and flu. Aspirin and ibuprofen can also cause asthma to worsen in some individuals. Some food-related asthma problems such as eating celery, carrots, egg whites, bananas, shrimp, and foodstuffs can increase the chance of an asthma attack.
Under a doctor’s care, medications can be effective in controlling asthmas. Inhalers, peak flow meters, and asthma and allergy medicine can all help control asthma. Using an inhaler from 15 to 20 minutes before activity should help control asthma and the effects of the inhaler should last 4-6 hours after the exercise. A peak flow meter measures air expelled from the lungs. More than a 10% drop in airflow resistance indicated the possibility of an asthma attack. The two main types of asthma medicine are quick-relief or rescue medicines, to relieve symptoms after they begin, and controller medications, to prevent asthma symptoms from arising in the first place.
Exercise may still be performed under a doctor’s care. Low intensity cardiovascular activity should be done first at 40-70% of a target heart rate for 5 to 10 minutes until person’s ability to breathe is tolerates exercise. Short bouts of activity should be done with 4-6 minute intervals and a five-minute rest interval between sets to gradually adjust to the workload. Deep breathing from the nose may help.
When signs of an asthma attack occur, the exerciser should relax, rest, and discontinue exercise for 10 minutes until after the attack. The individual should drink warm water, and if there are doubts about the severity of the attack or if the individual’s skin or nails turn blue, medical help should be sought immediately.
People with asthma may still exercise. Exercises for asthma sufferers should include low-impact aerobic activities such as biking, hiking, golf, baseball, softball, gymnastics, and shorter track and field events such as walking and swimming. Many individuals who suffer from asthma prefer swimming because of the warm environment and because it is a low-impact exercise. Anaerobic activities good for asthma suffers should include weightlifting, pilates, and yoga. High intensity activities that are aerobic should be introduced gradually. These exercises include running, hockey, golf, cross-country skiing, ice skating, other cold weather sports, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and basketball.
Air quality for sufferers can be checked by reviewing weather conditions on the Internet, TV, or in the local paper. During cold, dry, or polluted days, an asthma sufferer may deter attacks by exercising inside. During cold weather, a face mask may help if the individual prefers to exercise outside.
Most individuals learn to control their asthma and are able to enjoy high-impact activities. Famous athletes such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field), Jerome Bettis (NFL running back), Amy Van Dyken ( swimming), Dennis Rodman (NBA basketball), and Ray Bourque ( NHL hockey) all enjoy the benefits of high-impact exercise and have asthma. Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Under the care of a physician and a trainer, exercise is still possible and enjoyable.
Asthma: Run with it
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Sherman Oaks, CA: Fitness Theory and Practice. Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, 2002
American Council on Exercise, Personal Trainer Manual, San Diego, CA: ACE Fitness, 2000.
Hatfield, Fredrick C., Fitness the Complete Guide, Santa Barbara, CA: 2004.
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