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Doing sport is both possible and highly recommended for people with asthma! Discover why with pulmonologist Dr Cécile Olivier.
There are several types of asthma: mild intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent. No matter the type, exercise can trigger an attack. This is referred to as exercise-induced asthma. This might lead you to think that asthma and exercise aren't compatible. But you'd be wrong! In fact, exercise is strongly recommended for asthmatics.
To explain everything, I had the honour of putting some questions to Dr Cécile Olivier, pulmonologist and asthma specialist at CESAL (Lille sleep research centre).
Dr Olivier: "Sport is recommended for people with asthma just as it is for the general public. It brings both physical and mental benefits. It improves exercise tolerance, which is particularly important for asthmatics."
Dr O: "The effects aren't actually on the asthma itself, but on the respiratory muscles. Doing regular exercise will increase the capacity of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. This will make breathing easier, as the muscles will be of better quality.
Exercise also brings psychological benefits, and that applies for any type of chronic illness. It's really beneficial!"
Dr O: "Exercise-induced asthma appears during exercise and manifests as coughing or shortness of breath. These symptoms are caused by the narrowing of the bronchi.
Often, exercise-induced asthma doesn't appear immediately. You have to wait a short while - generally 5 to 10 minutes after starting exercise, or once you've stopped.
It shouldn't be confused with shortness of breath during exercise, which occurs in people who do little physical activity and who are therefore going to get out of breath quickly (unconditioned to exercise). Hence the importance of regular physical activity.
Stopping sport leads to a loss of physical capacity, so you quickly get short of breath. When you start exercising again, it feels hard. But it's worth persevering and finding the most suitable physical activity.
Asthmatics are fully capable of doing sport. The best proof is the existence of high-level athletes with exercise-induced asthma. It doesn't stop them from performing."
Dr O: "It's well worth warming up before starting your activity. You should get your body and airways ready by doing at least 10 minutes of warm-up. Don't forget to schedule in some recovery time after exercise too.”
What's the best way to warm up before exercise?
Dr O: “When getting into sport, it's important to pick an activity you like, where you're sure to have fun. You might want to do it with someone else for extra motivation, because at the start it might not be very enjoyable and you might be tempted to throw in the towel. To avoid that, it's best to start gradually.”
How can you help friends or family take up exercise?
Dr Olivier also reminds us about the importance of medication:
“Some asthmatics will want to take their inhaler to improve their capacity, make sure they're ready and avoid any attacks during exercise.
You should always keep your inhaler on you and pay attention to the weather conditions (pollen, cold/dry weather, and pollution)."
Dr O: "Kids absolutely shouldn't be excused from exercise. If necessary, you should adapt the activity to make it physically possible. Don't worry about performance; focus on fun!
Thankfully, sports exemptions are something that's happening less and less. In the past, we'd advise kids not to do sport, but today we know it's beneficial."
We all know that sport is good for us, but it's common to have the odd concern, particularly when it comes to health.
I hope that after reading our chat with Dr Cécile Olivier, you'll feel that all your questions about asthma have been answered.
Many thanks to Dr Olivier for her valuable advice and explanations!