Cold weather aggravating your asthma while exercising outdoors?

If you have asthma, there is a 90% chance that you also have exercise induced asthma (EIA). There is also a good chance that exercising in cold dry weather makes your EIA worse. But there are some simple ways to overcome these barriers so that you can continue to exercise outdoors all winter long!

There are three things you can do to prevent EIA from creeping up on you during a workout, whether indoors or outdoors, hot or cold, dry or humid. These are scientifically proven to be helpful.

  1. Warm-up: For people with EIA a high intensity warm-up (60% of your max) 15 minutes before your workout is a proven way to reduce EIA symptoms during your workout. This is of course complicated as most people don’t sit around after they warm-up. You could warm-up, then do some strength training for 15 minutes, and then get back to your aerobic exercise. Or, you can…
  2. Take your rescue medication 15 minutes before your workout: This quick acting medication ensures that your airways stay nice and open during an exercise session and is a great way to prevent EIA from compromising your workout. Of course, if you exercise 5-7 days/week, you may not want to take all that medication. So, number 1 may be the better option. Alternatively, you can reduce the frequency and severity of EIA by doing number 3.
  3. Increase your aerobic fitness: This is a bit of a catch 22. How do you increase your aerobic fitness if you’re constantly having EIA symptoms? Well, you can warm-up or take your medication when you first begin an exercise routine and then once your fitness levels improve, the frequency and severity of EIA should decrease quite significantly, therefore eliminating the need for a high intensity warm-up or medication 15 minutes prior.

These sure fire ways of preventing EIA of course are further complicated when you’re exercising outdoors on a cold-dry day. So, here are some things that I do to prevent EIA from creeping up on me when I run outdoors in the winter. I hope they work for you. FYI: these are not scientifically proven to be effective, but 9/10times, they work for me!

  1. Breathe through a face mask or scarf: I’m a scary looking person when I go for a run in the winter. I wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth nice and tight so that I am breathing through the scarf during my run. This allows for the air to warm up before entering the airways…which helps prevent EIA. It also moistens the air a bit since you are breathing in through a damp scarf (it naturally dampens after the first couple of minutes of running).
  2. Breathe through your nose: If you have asthma, you’ve likely heard this before. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. In the winter, this technique ensures that you are not breathing cold dry air directly into your airway, but are forcing it to go through the nasal passage (to warm up and get moist) before entering your airways. It also helps keep that scarf around your face nice and damp (I know, gross!).
  3. Chew gum or suck on candy: I find that having gum in my mouth or sucking on a hard candy forces me to continuously swallow saliva…this keeps the throat somewhat moist and helps prevent EIA symptoms; particularly if a sore throat is one that bothers you. This technique also helps with breathing in through your nose since your mouth is busy.

I am sure there are many other techniques to prevent the cold from ruining your workout. Please feel free to share them here as I am always looking for additional ways to overcome this annoying little barrier!

I hope these tips help you maintain your Healthy Active Lifestyle Forever!



Can a proper warm-up prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms?

An appropriate warm-up has long been considered an effective means to prevent exercise-induced asthma (EIA). EIA is a condition in which individuals have symptoms such as breathlessness, sore throat, wheezing and cough after exercise (sometimes during). These symptoms are related to a narrowing of the airways and occur in about 90% of people who have been diagnosed with asthma; it also occurs in many individuals who do not have asthma. If you have experienced these symptoms, consider speaking to your doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

The reason you usually will not experience EIA during exercise is that during exercise we release Epinephrine or Adrenaline, a hormone that binds to certain receptors in our airways and causes them to dilate (become wider). Once you stop exercising and the levels of epinephrine go down, a person with EIA will generally start to experience symptoms. Here is the great part,  after exercise many people with EIA will go into what is referred to as a “refractory” period and therefore cannot have EIA symptoms for a couple of hours after this session. The question that arises is: what type of warm-up will trigger this protective refractory period?

While several studies have been conducted in this area, there are a variety of warm-up protocols that have been used. In an attempt to clarify the optimal warm-up to prevent EIA, Stickland and his colleagues conducted a review of scientific studies. They reviewed 7 trials with a total of 128 participants. Four types of warm-ups were reviewed: short sprints or intervals, continuous high-intensity, continuous low-intensity and variable intensity (continuous followed by interval). Using lung function (the openness of the airways) as their main criteria, they found that the interval type of warm-up was the most effective at preventing EIA. The interval type warm-up usually consisted of 30 second sprints at a high intensity (all out running for 30 seconds). The number of times to repeat this varied from 8-10 with anything from 45 seconds to 5 minutes between sprints. Finally, the exercise session was conducted 15-20 minutes after doing the interval warm-up.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: If you have EIA and are struggling with symptoms during exercise, try doing a few 30 second high intensity interval sprints before going to the gym or the track. You can do them around your house or on your walk over to the gym. You can even run up and down the stairs of your house or the hallways of your apartment building. This will ensure that once you get to your workout, you will be in your refractory period! Another important note, if this seems like too much, the use of a bronchodilator (puffer) about 15 minutes before exercise also prevents EIA.

Whether it is an appropriate warm-up or a bronchodilator, do what you need to maintain your exercise and active lifestyle. Don’t forget, you have control of your HALF!!