Friday, 14 December 2012

Running with Asthma

Realistically, I'm not going to be running much more this year what with feeling and being under the weather therefore this is as good an opportunity as any to post my blog on Running with Asthma.

This blog aims to provide information to everyone but in particular asthmatics on the importance of exercise, such as running, to improve fitness and hence ultimately reduce the symptoms of asthma.  Prior to starting a programme of exercise, it is recommended that those with asthma first consult their doctor to determine whether running is an appropriate form of exercise to pursue.

Before examining what benefits exercise such as running can offer asthmatics, it is important to first understand the asthma condition which affects 5.4 million people in the UK.  When triggered by an irritant, the airway becomes inflamed and narrows, leading to symptoms such as a tight chest, coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.

If symptoms intensify and self-administered medication fails to relieve the symptoms, an asthma attack may occur.  In some cases hospital treatment is required to bring the symptoms back under control.  The severity of asthma varies between sufferers, as does the triggers.  For example, infections, cold air, allergies and exercise are common asthma triggers.  Common precautions to take when exercising will be discussed later to help avoid triggering asthma symptoms.  There is no known cure for asthma therefore, in terms of managing the condition there are a number of treatments available to help alleviate and prevent symptoms and attacks from occurring.  These include a combination of medicines such as inhalers to dispense a drug, lifestyle adjustments which include a healthy diet and exercise and the avoidance of known triggers.  Medicines usually consist of a reliever to self-administer when symptoms occur, something to take prior to starting to exercise in order to help relax and widen the airways and a preventer to reduce future occurrences.

Asthmatics are also taught a number of breathing techniques to help manage their condition by varying the rate and depth of breathing.  These techniques can then be used when exercising to help keep breathing under control.  If breathing difficulties do arise and start to trigger asthma symptoms, then it is likely that the sufferer will have to stop the activity  and use a combination of breathing techniques and a reliever until breathing returns to normal and the symptoms ease.  It is therefore vital for asthmatics to carry a reliever when exercising in case symptoms occur that cannot be controlled by breathing techniques alone.  Additionally, it is recommended that exposure to known triggers is limited to prevent onset of symptoms.  For example, if cold air is a trigger, then breathing through the nose or via a scarf warms the air prior to its contact with the airways and lungs. Similarly, if pollen or smog trigger symptoms, it is wise to avoid exercising in high pollen areas or high volumes of traffic.  Knowing when symptoms begin to advance is important when exercising as it will allow the sufferer to know whether the effort level needs to be adjusted, for example to run more slowly to avoid symptoms developing to the point where intervention from a reliever over and above the learned breathing techniques is required.

Exercise is also required in part to control weight as obesity is believed to have an adverse impact on asthma.  There are other exercise benefits for asthmatics in addition to those already listed including improving fitness, boosting the immune system to avoid respiratory infection triggers and the strengthening of breathing muscles.  As well as improving physical health, running can also improve self-belief through the setting of targets and goals and help to relieve stress.

There are many benefits and reasons as to why asthmatics should exercise. However, what benefits does running offer over other activities such as walking, swimming and cycling, etc.?  It generally depends on what the objectives of the exercise are, for example if weight loss is a goal then running is better for burning calories.  There are various tables online which you can search for on Google to compare different exercises.  This will help you decide which exercise will help you achieve your goals.

The benefits of running include accessibility, as almost anyone can start running and from practically anywhere, minimal cost, as gymnasium membership is not required, and it can improve sleep, boost wellbeing and provide an opportunity to break away from the daily routine.  It is recommended that stamina and fitness are developed gradually to allow the body to steadily adapt to the new exercise regime.  To that end it is suggested that a tried and tested programme such as the ‘Couch to 5k’ running programme is utilised with the aid of podcasts that provide instructions and music to help motivation through the programmed runs.

Exercise such as running can therefore be considered as both a trigger of asthma symptoms and a method by which the condition can be controlled as part of a healthy lifestyle. Once the sufferer has learned how to overcome the symptoms of asthma and to manage the condition correctly when exercising, anything should be achievable as demonstrated by the athlete and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe who has suffered from asthma all her life.

Further study on this topic in the future will examine the downsides to running, further detailed examination of the benefits associated with running and the advantages of cross training.

I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Lets see what 2013 will bring.  Hopefully some warmer weather and a longer period of injury/illness free time than 2012 so I can actually run.

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