As a kid, I suffered from asthma pretty bad. I had to take “breathing treatments” throughout the days and nights. I had an inhaler that I kept on my person 24/7, and I took prednisone every day. Needless to say, my childhood was a bit different compared to the neighborhood kids.
Strangely enough, I didn’t mind keeping my inhaler on me 24/7 and I didn’t mind popping pills every morning. Even the breathing treatments I did usually only lasted about 10 minutes or less. What really sucked was getting asthma attacks when I was out playing. Or more precisely, halting my playtime when I felt my asthma starting to kick in.
My asthma wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t run at all or play sports, but if for some reason I left my inhaler behind or was temporarily away from it, I didn’t do much in the way of physical exercise. I was just too scared.
And this sucked!
It’s tough to play soccer or participate with the rest of the kids when you can’t run. So during gym class or while playing sports, I was very careful about how much effort I could expend, to ensure I could breathe.
Fast forward to now, as an adult I still have asthma, but I very much control it, vs it controlling me.
Back in the ’80s, we didn’t have the preventative medicine that we do today, and this is a big reason why my asthma doesn’t really enter into my mind anymore. I get up and run in the mornings, I play sports without any hindrance and I can go about my lifestyle like anybody without asthma.
Asthma doesn’t affect everyone the same. Some people may not be able to get up and go for a run, and some might still carry an inhaler with them 24/7.
My goal with this post is to share some exercises you can do to help boost your lung capacity and strength. I also want to cover some activities you might be able to do if your asthma still hinders your ability to push yourself.
Table of Contents
Exercises To Boost Your Lung Capacity
The goal of this first exercise is to match your breathing with a movement designed to open up your airways and expand your lungs.
So the first exercise is to stand tall with your arms extended out in front of you with your palms together. As you take a deep breath in, you want to spread your arms out so that you look like the letter T. Open up your chest and bring your arms back as far as you can, really opening up your lungs. As you breathe out, return your arms back in front of you with your palms touching again.
Do this 10 times and then drop your arms to your sides. This exercise will help fill your lungs with oxygen, it will help strengthen your lungs and it will be very meditative too. You should feel relaxed and comfortable after doing this.
The second exercise is similar but in a different direction. For this one, it might be best to be sitting down. Place your hands on your knees and as you inhale lift your arms above your head like you’re being told “to put your hands in the air,” by the police. As you exhale slowly lower your hands back down to your knees. Again, this is opening your lungs and allowing you to build that capacity. After each of these exercises, it’s best to just breathe normally for about 30 seconds.
The third exercise is to interlock your fingers in front of your chest, with your elbows flared out. As you breathe out, extend your arms out in front of you, while rotating your interlocked fingers. Your palms will be facing away from you when your arms are fully extended out.
As you breathe back in, you’ll bring your arms back to the original position. Do this for a count of 10 repetitions.
For the next set of 10 repetitions, instead of extending your arms out in front of you, you’ll extend them above your head. Again your wrist will rotate and your palms will be facing the sky when you breathe out.
As you breathe in, you’ll bring them back down in front of you, so that your palms face your chest again.
The goal here is two-fold. You want to work on your breathing and you want to physically expand your chest so that you can fill your lungs to capacity.
Activities You Can Do With Asthma
If running is just out of the question, this means that you’ll need to stick with lower heart rate exercises.
My first recommendation would be resistance training. You can do weight lifting without increasing your heart rate much. You still get the benefits of…
- Burning calories
- Boosting your metabolism
- Better night’s rest
- Burning excess body fat
- Prevents obesity
- Reduces stress and anxiety
I would stay away from interval training or circuit training if you feel it might cause an issue. Both of these usually include weight lifting but leave little time for rest, so your heart rate wouldn’t be allowed to slow down much.
The second exercise I would recommend is yoga. Yoga involves a lot of stretching so the intensity is low.
If you’ve never been to a yoga class they do a lot of stretching or poses. They really focus on breathing techniques and they typically go through about 15-20 poses for an hour. The benefits of yoga include:
- Increased flexibility
- Increase in muscle tone and strength
- Improved lung function and capabilities
- Prevents injuries
- Burns calories, lowering body fat percentage
Pilates would be another activity you could explore. If you’ve never done Pilates it’s a very technique-driven form of exercise. The movements are very deliberate and controlled. A typical class usually takes about 45 minutes. The benefits of Pilates include:
- Better balance
- Improved posture
- Increased strength
- Enhanced core strength
- Greater stamina
Foods That Can Cause Inflammation
Foods can cause inflammation in your body. Some foods can help treat inflammation. By reducing inflammation in your lungs you’re allowing the air to flow freely. Here is a list of common foods you might want to avoid
- Nuts (specifically tree nuts for me)
Some foods that you might want to add to your intake to fight off inflammation include berries, broccoli, avocados, ginger, and green tea. Neither of these lists is meant to be all-inclusive, but you might want to try them out and see if you notice any difference.
Why Meditation Is Good For Asthmatics
When I was younger if I didn’t have my inhaler with me, it could give me anxiety and almost trigger difficulty breathing.
I wouldn’t even have to be running or playing, but just knowing that I didn’t have my rescue inhaler would trigger small attacks. As I got older I realized this was more of a panic attack vs an asthma attack. Mediation is a great tool for mental health.
I would strongly recommend finding a meditation program on a daily schedule. Learning to control your mental state, along with learning relaxing breathing techniques might be all you need to calm yourself before your asthma exacerbates further.
The other benefits of meditation include reducing stress, controls anxiety, increases your sense of well-being, improves your focus, improves memory, and much much more. So if you’re the type of person that freaks out a bit when you first notice the symptoms of asthma, meditation might help you stop this panic before it starts.
Proper Usage Of Your Rescue Inhaler
The best-case scenario is that only 50 percent of the medicine is actually making it into your lungs. The three biggest mistakes when using an inhaler is not shaking it before using it, waiting to breathe in after you’ve sprayed the mist, and not holding your breath after you’ve inhaled it into your lungs. So to make this work, you need to shake the inhaler, start breathing in as you hit your inhaler and hold your breath for about 15-20 seconds.
Conclusion of Asthma and Exercise
No one really knows what causes asthma and to date, there are no cures for it. Hopefully, with the advancement of medicine, you’re able to maintain a daily exercise program regardless of your asthma. If your asthma still encumbers your ability to run or elevate your heart rate much, there are other activities you can do to hit your fitness goals.
Does your asthma hinder your workout? Leave a comment below.