According to recent studies 2.7 million Australian’s live with asthma. With increasing prevalence, awareness and the backing of high profile celebrity sufferers such as renowned soccer star David Beckham, exercise as a form of asthma management is becoming a common treatment method.
What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder that affects 1 in 9 Australians. Research shows that environmental, hygiene, lifestyle and genetic factors play a role in prevalence; however the exact cause is often unclear. Upon diagnosis an individual will have an ‘asthma action plan’ designed for them and implemented to ensure appropriate response to and management of future attacks. An asthma attack occurs when an individual’s airways become inflamed. This inflammation restricts airflow into the lungs causing low oxygen supply to the body. During an attack an individual can experience symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in the chest. As a result of these symptoms (or fear of) asthmatics have a tendency to find physical activity or activities of daily living difficult to perform.
Reduced capacity to perform regular physical activity can lead to poor cardio-respiratory fitness, strength and endurance. Appropriate exercise prescription can increase an individual’s aerobic fitness, by improving the efficiency of the lung’s capacity to utilise oxygen. When an individual participates in aerobic exercise, the body undergoes overload. Overload is a form of stress that is slightly greater than the body’s regular demand. The benefit of overload training is to put the individual in a controlled environment where their body is forced to adapt to the increased demand. Aerobic training increases mitochondrial production and the vascular network around the lungs. This in turn trains the individual’s lungs to function efficiently at a lower oxygen level. Exercise physiologists have a thorough understanding of the cardio-metabolic system and the impact asthma has on the body’s capacity to perform. Qualified clinicians can prescribe the appropriate amount of overload for an individual with asthma in a safe and effective way.
Guidelines for exercise intervention for individuals with asthma:
Cardiorespiratory training (aerobic):
· Low intensity (55-70% HR max) = 5 session a week for a duration of at least 30 min
· High intensity (>90% HR max)= 3 session a week for a duration of at least 20 min
· 70% of 1 Rep max intensity. 2 or more session a week, 2-3 sets with 8-12 repetitions
So what do I do now?
Firstly, choose an activity that you enjoy doing and start moving. An exercise physiologist will prescribe exercise to suit your baseline level of physical fitness and an intervention is often more effective if you are participating in an enjoyable activity. Secondly, go at your pace. Slowly build your body’s tolerance to your training intensity (especially if you fear the onset of asthmatic symptoms). Once you adapt to regular training start increasing the intensity of your activities e.g., it should be slightly challenging but still manageable. Following these simple steps and seeking the guidance of a qualified clinician will aid in the effective management of asthmatic symptoms and ensure a quality of life that allows no limitations.