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!!

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