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  • Kristina Walker, Certified Personal Trainer

Aging Gracefully; Maintaining Vitality: Senior Fitness Series Part 6

Special Populations: Asthma

Can someone who suffers from asthma exercise? For some people, exercise can trigger shortness of breath or other symptoms. Fortunately, having asthma, even exercise-induced asthma (EIA), doesn't mean you are exempt from going to the gym or participating in sports or other activities. In fact, as many as one in twelve Olympic athletes take asthma medications and are even more likely to win a metal. No one expects you or your residents to perform at that level, but it is comforting to know that you can achieve the high-level of performance if desired.

Before anyone starts an exercise program, their asthma should be well controlled. Adhering to prescribed medications and proper dosing is extremely important. Using a rescue inhaler in excess can increase or exacerbate side effects. There are two main types of asthma: chronic asthma and exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Chronic asthma is typically triggered by a variety of stimuli including pollens, cigarette smoke, air pollution, cold or dry air and viral infections. The cause of EIA is still unknown, but there are two main theories called the ‘water loss theory’ and ‘heat-exchange theory. Regardless of the root cause, EIA can be very manageable.

Generally, EIA is triggered in the first 6-12 minutes of exercise or 5-10 minutes after exercise has ended.

A proper warm-up and cool-down are critical in reducing the likelihood of EIA occurring. To help ensure safe and effective workouts, follow these steps:

1. The American Fitness Professionals Association recommends keeping well hydrated. They state that “consuming plenty of water after taking medicine will clear the medication from the back of the throat and adequate hydration can also prevent mucus plugging of the small bronchiole tubes. Mucus plugs can lead to infections that include bronchitis. Remain well hydrated before, during and after exercise, as well as throughout the day. 2. Avoid exercising in conditions when triggers are present, like cold air, pollutants or pollen. 3. Choose exercises that are relatively easy on the lungs, such as swimming (the air is also warm and moist), walking, yoga, easy biking, sports that allow for rest like golf and softball. Resistance training (lifting weights) rarely triggers EIA. 4. Consider the air quality and temperature. Avoid exercise in cold or dry environments. 5. Perform a 10-15-minute warm-up and gradually increase to 50-60% of you max effort. 6. Perform at least a 10 minute cool down. 7. Breath through the nose as much as possible. This will help to warm up the air and reduce hyperventilation. 8. Make sure you are following your medication regiment.

References: Lacroix 1999 ACE 1999

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