Look after your lungs with the help of exercise!

Welcome to National Asthma Week!

As the name suggests, National Asthma Week (1st to 7th September) is a week dedicated to raising awareness of Asthma.

Around 2.7 million Australians are living with Asthma – thats 1 in 9 people!

Asthma doesn’t discriminate either, affecting both children and adults of both genders. It also occurs twice as often within Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island communities, as well as being more common in socioeconomically disadvantaged, regional and remote areas.

To put it simply, Asthma affects a wide variety of people. But what exactly is Asthma? And how can exercise help? Let’s dive in and find out!

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic medical condition that affects our airways – the breathing tubes that transport air in and out of our lungs. Asthma causes these airways to become narrower, making it harder to breathe by:

      • Tightening up – the muscles within the airways constrict and narrow the airways
      • Thickening up – the lining of the airways become inflamed and swollen, leaving less room for the air to pass through
      • Filling up – the inside of the airways get filled with mucous

The exact causes of Asthma are unknown, but it is believed that their is a genetic component to the condition. There is also an understanding that allergens (such as pollens), air pollution, smoking and air temperature can contribute and cause Asthma symptoms to appear.

To continue learning more about Asthma symptoms and treatments head to National Asthma Council Australia or Asthma Australia websites.  

How does exercise help?

Exercise is a fantastic tool to help manage Asthma and overall improve lung function. Regular exercise training improves: 

      • Ventilatory Threshold – the point at which our breathing increases at a faster rate than our oxygen supply
      • Maximal Oxygen Uptake – the maximum rate in which we can breathe in and use oxygen
      • Ventilation Efficiency – how well our respiratory system (lungs) are able to supply our body with oxygen.
      • Myocardial Oxygen Cost – the amount of oxygen used to create the energy we need to exercise

Alongside these improvements, Asthma symptoms can not only reduce in severity, but also begin to occur at a higher exercise intensity. This, for example, allows for an asthmatic to run faster, walk for longer or climb more stairs at a faster speed before the onset of symptoms.

Exercise Guidelines

To achieve the most beneficial outcomes, it is important to complete the right type of exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals with Asthma should complete both aerobic and resistance training. 

      • Aerobic training:
        • 3 – 5 days/week.
        • Activities that involve large muscle groups (such as walking, running or swimming)
        • Gradually build up to 30 – 40 minutes.
        • This can be completed in either:
            • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – short, but fast bouts of exercise with rest periods in between.
            • One continuous bout at a moderate speed.
        • Some great examples of aerobic activities are:
            • Walking/Running
            • Hiking
            • Cycling
            • Stair climbing
            • Rowing
            • Cross-trainer
      • Resistance training:
        • 2 – 3 days/week
        • 2 – 4 sets of 8 – 12 repetitions of each exercise
        • Exercises (using free weights, machines or even just your own bodyweight) utilising large muscle groups. This could include exercises like:
            • Squats
            • Push Ups
            • Chest Press
            • Lat Pull Down
            • Step Ups
            • Shoulder Press
            • Seated Row
            • Lunges

If you would like some more great suggestions on different ways to exercise, check out our previous post No gym? No problem! Effective ways to exercise outside the gym!

Important considerations!

These exercise guidelines were designed for someone living with Asthma, however they will be beneficial for anyones respiratory health. Additionally, it is important to consider that the prescription may be slightly different for people with other chronic respiratory conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Cystic Fibrosis. If that is you, it is always advisable to seek the advice of a professional, like an Exercise Physiologist, before starting an exercise program.

We also know that exercise has the potential to induce Asthma symptoms. Hence, it is important to have your Asthma medication with you while exercising, just in case you need it!

It is also important to understand how exercising and the environment impact your Asthma symptoms. For example, exercising on a cold winters morning when the air is dry, or outside in the spring with lots of pollen and grass clippings around can be potential triggers for many asthmatics. You also need to know the intensity of exercise at which Asthma symptoms start to occur for you.

This can be challenging, and sometimes a little scary, to figure out, so seeking the assistance of an exercise professional is an important step to take. To ensure you are maximising the benefits while remaining safe, contact us to organise and appointment with on of our Exercise Physiologists!

How do I know if I'm getting the most out of my exercise?

A great way to monitor our work load is by using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). It is a tool frequently used by exercise professionals to measure an individual’s effort, exertion, breathlessness and fatigue. To put it simply, it provides a measure of how hard it feels to complete a certain activity. The individual completing a task will use physical sensations such as heart rate, sweating, breathlessness and muscle fatigue to estimate how hard they are working.

The original scale disigned by Borg and often used by many exercise professionals uses a 6-20 scale. However, the CR10 (0-10) scale referred to as as a modified Borg scale is simpler to use, so we’ll use it here.

Specifically referring to the recommendations above, you should aim for aerobic training to be completed between a 4 and 6 initially, building up to a 6 to 7. As for resistance training, beginners should start at a 6 to 7 and those with more experience in weight training at an 8.

Although this is a good guide to your starting point, the ideal training intensity does vary for each individual’s circumstances. Hence, it is advisable that you seek the advice of an expert before beginning your exercise journey. For some assistance, contact us to organise an appointment with one of our Exercise Physiologists. 

Want to know more?

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday!

In the meantime, here are some related posts that may interest you:

Keep an eye out in the future for our brand new series “How I live strong and prosper”. In this series, we’ll be chatting with Simply Stronger clients and finding out what they do to live strong and prosper!

Please leave a comment below if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to discuss!

We are here to help!

Exercise Physiologists specialise in helping people identify the type of exercise that will help them achieve their goals – not just in a gym with weights, but to include in your everyday life! If you would like some assistance in determining the best type fo exercise for you to help you achieve your goals, contact us to organise an appointment to see one of our Exercise Physiologists.

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References and useful resources

Asthma Australia (2020), What is Asthma?, viewed 01/09/2020, https://asthma.org.au/about-asthma/understanding-asthma/asthma/ 

Durstine, JL, Moore, GE & Painter, PL 2016, ACSM’s exercise management for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities, Champaign, IL Human Kinetics, [2016]. Fourth edition.

National Asthma Council Australia (2019), What is Asthma?, viewed 01/09/2020, https://www.nationalasthma.org.au/understanding-asthma/what-is-asthma 

Photos provided by Fitsum Admasu, Paul Green and Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash.com

Riebe, D 2016, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, Philadelphia Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health, 2014. 10th ed.

Williams, N 2017, ‘The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale’, Occupational Medicine, vol. 67, no. 5, pp. 404-405.

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