Asthma doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Running regularly will help keep your heart strong and make it more efficient at using less oxygen, which is exactly what those of us with asthma need, right?
Plan ahead for each run by following these 10 simple tips that will help keep asthma attacks at bay and ensure optimum enjoyment each time you run.
1. “Puffer UP”: Your doctor will be able to give you the best advice about how/when to use your puffer before running. If you have chronic asthma, it’s usually recommended you take a puff or two of Ventolin (Albuterol) 20 minutes before your run. Always have your puffer close by when running!
2. Warmup and cool down: A warm up is crucial for anyone, but in particular for asthma suffers. Warming up allows your body to adjust to the oxygen demands you’re placing on it, in a more gradual manner, significantly lessening the chances of an attack. A warm up will also give you an idea as to how well your airways are functioning before you start to push a more demanding pace. A five-minute cool down period will allow your breathing to come back down slowly, reducing the chance you’ll have to use your rescue inhaler directly after your workout or later on in the day.
3. Run indoors when necessary: Running indoors on a treadmill or indoor track is much safer for severe asthmatics. There’s no risk of losing your inhaler, having your cell battery die, or being somewhere where there’s nobody around to assist you in case of serious attacks. Running indoors also allows you to control environmental variables such as allergens, smog, and other airborne irritants that you may encounter while running outside that trigger attacks.
4. Avoid overexertion: A good warm up is the best defense against airway spasms. Your lungs don’t work the same way as someone without asthma. Even healthy folks can’t push too far, too soon. Like any non-asthmatic, you just may not have the genetic gifts required to run a 3-miler in under 30 minutes or compete in a marathon. Try to end every workout feeling good, preferably without any serious wheezing which is a clear indication you’re overexerting yourself.
5. Breathe through your nose: Even the best runners in the world make this mistake. Breathing with your mouth dries out your airways, causing swelling, asthma attacks, over-breathing, high blood pressure and elevated heart rate. This can lead to a particularly dangerous attacks where wheezing and breathlessness are much harder to get control over.
6. Avoid over-breathing: Breathing through your nose, as suggested in #5, is one of the best foundational way to avoid over-breathing. Over-breathing is a problem for non-asthmatics. It robs performance and causes airway inflammation in non-asthmatics. For those who have asthma, over-breathing is just plain asking for trouble. Breathing too fast means you’re literally hyperventilating (a condition most associated with panic attacks), which will cause severe swelling in your upper respiratory system and trigger an asthma attack – sooner rather than later. Breathe through your nose and focus on taking deep breaths (i.e., stomach breathing, not chest breathing).
7. Be careful in the cold: This is a tip that should be well-known to most adults suffering from asthma. However, children and teens suffering with this condition will have their most severe attacks when exercising in the cold. Even the experienced adult asthmatic running on the first cool day of the year can be caught off-guard by cool, non-humid air. Cold air dries out the lungs and causes swelling in the bronchial tubes. A scarf or breathing mask can help hold the humidity in your lungs, along with breathing through your nose.
8. Wear a medical ID bracelet when running outdoors: Imagine the worst case scenario happens while you’re running. You’re wheezing uncontrollably, possibly losing or completely lost consciousness and (praise all that’s holy) someone has found you and desperately wants to give you assistance. The puffer’s right in your pocket or somewhere nearby, but you’re too weak to get to it. A medical ID bracelet will avoid any confusion from passersby or medical staff, ensuring you get prompt and proper attention for your condition.
9. Don’t compare yourself to non-asthmatics: Just like a sixty-year-old runner shouldn’t try to keep up with someone who is eighteen; an asthmatic shouldn’t compare themselves to people who don’t share their affliction. Doing so can cause you to over-exert yourself and also leads to discouragement; thinking there’s no sense in continuing your routine if you can’t live up to the same standards as the non-asthmatic person.
10. Eat whole foods/Avoid preservatives: Many preservatives including sulphites, nitrates, aspartame, parabens, tartrazine, BHT, BHA, and benzoates all spell bad news for any asthmatic. While you, yourself may not have had an adverse reaction to any of them – intense exercise tends to bring these reactions to the surface. Worse, you may not be aware these irritants are even causing your attacks.
As you can see, most of these tips don’t require a great deal of planning time, or require you to make any great sacrifices to ensure your asthma is controlled while running.
You are indeed different from people who don’t have asthma, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy physical fitness and the life-enhancing benefits regular aerobic exercise offers!