Exercise as it relates to Disease/Asthma, exercise and cold environments
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system and airways. There are many classifications of asthma based upon triggers and the severity of symptoms. Common triggers include: dust, pollen, grass, smoke, chemicals, stress, exercise and cold air. When exposed to a trigger, the asthma sufferer's airways will narrow due to the inflammation of the airway lining, the production of extra mucus and tightening of the muscle around the airways. This will cause difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Exercise Induced Asthma causes typical asthma symptoms which tend to arise early during exercise as well as post exercise (30min after cessation).
Why does cold weather exacerbate my asthma?
During winter and in cold weather, allergens and irritants are more likely to be present indoors, increasing symptoms for asthma sufferers who are affected by these triggers. The cold and dry air can cause and increase the severity of asthma symptoms. The exact cause of asthma due to inhalation of cold air is not yet clear, but it is known that the temperature of air is very important. Inhalation of cold, dry air causes the normally warm, humid lining of the airways to become cold and dry. This causes our body to respond by tightening the airways and thickening the mucus, leading to the symptoms of asthma. When exercising, our breathing frequency also increases, which can exacerbate Exercise Induced Asthma.
Can I exercise in cold weather?
Research has shown that exercise is beneficial in reducing severity of asthma symptoms as well as improving general fitness. If asthma is well controlled and extra measures are taken when exercising outside, sufferers can still fully participate in and enjoy exercise during the cold weather.
How do I best control my asthma for exercise in the cold weather?
Taking precautions such as exercising in sheltered areas and during warmer periods of the day will help reduce asthma symptoms in response to cold air inhalation. Increasing the time spent exercising indoors will help prevent asthma caused by the cold environment. Conducting a good warm up and warm down will also help reduce effects of Exercise Induced Asthma. Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth helps warm and humidify the air that is breathed in during cold weather. The continued maintenance of prescribed asthma preventatives and inhalers is recommended in combination with these extra controls.
What exercise type or sport is best during cold weather?
All types of exercise are safe to participate in during cold weather if recommended asthma management routines and tips on controlling asthma during cold weather are followed. Swimming is an excellent activity during cold weather as indoor pool air is warm and moist. Other indoor exercise such as team sports and gym will also provide warmer conditions for exercise. Scuba diving is the only sport in which asthmatics cannot participate for medical reasons.
Further readings and contacts
- Asthma Foundation
- Asthma Foundation “Being Active with asthma” Fact sheet
- National Asthma Council Australia
- Sports Medicine Australia - Asthma management
- ACT Health Community Asthma Support Service, phone: 6207 9977
- Asthma Foundation 2010, ‘Being active with asthma’, viewed 14th october 2011, http://web.archive.org/web/20110226083025/http://www.asthmafoundation.org.au/uploadedFiles/Content/About_Asthma/Resources/Being_Active.pdf
- Sports medicine Australia ‘Asthma Management’, viewed 15th October 2011, http://sma.org.au/resources/sports-first-aid-resources/asthma-management/
- Asthma 2008, ‘Winter Allergic Asthma Challenges - Dealing with Seasonal Allergic Asthma’, viewed 15th October 2011, http://asthma.about.com/od/asthmaallergyconnection/a/winterasthma.htm
- Tan, R & Spector, S 1998, ‘Exercise-induced asthma’, Sports Medicine, vol. 25 Issue 1, p. 1-6
- The Australian Lung Foundation, ‘Asthma and exercise in sport’, viewed 15th October, http://www.nevdgp.org.au/info/lungf/asthma-exercise-health.html
- Allergy Relief 2008, ‘Coping with asthma during winter’, viewed 14th October 2011, http://www.achooallergy.com/winter-asthma.asp
- Giesbrecht, G & Younes, M 1995, ‘Exercise and cold induced asthma’, Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 20, Issue 3
- Schroeder, Jan 2010, ‘Asthma’, American Fitness, Vol. 28, Issue 4
- Shaw, I, Shaw, B & Brown, G 2010, ‘Role of diaphragmatic breathing and aerobic exercise in improving pulmonary function and maximal oxygen consumption in asthmatics’, Science & Sports, Vol. 25, Issue 3
- Long, P & Mason, M 1994, ‘Out of breath on the slopes’, Health (Time Inc. Health), Vol. 8 Issue 2, p10, 4p
- Dinnall, A 2003, ‘Winter asthma triggers’, viewed 14th October, http://hnewhizkidz.com/ACE/ASTHMA/winter.htm