Exercise is very important for lung health, as it is for overall health. Exercise definitely benefits people with asthma. Daily exercise helps to improve the capacity of the lungs, which means that exercise helps to increase the amount of oxygen the body can use. Exercise also increases blood flow to the lungs, thus promoting blood flow to the heart which pumps oxygen throughout the body. When we exercise, we have more ability to pull oxygen from the lungs into the blood which also feeds our muscles.
How does exercise help with asthma symptoms
Exercises for asthma usually help by strengthening the lungs and without worsening inflammation. Some exercises can reduce or even prevent asthma symptoms from occurring. This is because these exercises slowly
- Increase endurance
- Reduce Inflammation
- Improve lung function
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
- Improves lung function, thus building overall stamina. This helps the person to feel less out of breath.
- Leads to weight loss, which helps to reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
- Improves the functioning of the immune system, which helps to reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections that triggers asthma symptoms.
- Exercises also help to improve mood by producing happy hormones which reduce stress, thus reducing the symptoms of asthma.
Even though exercise can decrease asthma symptoms, it is important to remember to do the right type and amount of exercise, which you can decide in consultation with your doctor.
Exercises for Asthma
People with asthma should slowly increase their level of exercise in order to reduce the risk of asthma flare-ups while exercising. Exercises that focus on regulating breathing and increasing lung capacity like Pranayamas can be very beneficial.
Where physical exercises are concerned, people with asthma should choose exercises that are of short duration with rest in between. This will work well for asthmatics as it allows them to be active without putting too much pressure on their lungs. They can improve their stamina slowly and gradually. They should avoid high-intensity workouts until they build up their strength and endurance. It is also good to avoid exercising in cold or dry conditions as cold weather can trigger asthma symptoms.
People with asthma should also pay deep attention to their body while exercising, to note if any of the exercises is triggering a flare-up, in which case they must stop that activity.
Three Breathing Exercises that Help Alleviate Asthma Symptoms
Asthma narrows the airways in your lungs to such a point, that it can become hard to breathe. Recent studies suggest some exercises that might help to improve breathing and thus improve quality of life. Hence, breathing exercises may have value as a supplementary therapy to medication and other asthma treatments.
Breathing exercises can reduce asthma symptoms, by opening the airways, and moving fresh air into the lungs, thus reducing the effort of breathing. The most effective breathing exercises for asthma are diaphragmatic breathing, nasal breathing, and pursed lip breathing.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (aka Belly breathing)
This breathing technique in yoga helps to strengthen the diaphragm, slow our breathing, and helps to increase the absorption of oxygen. To practice this breathing technique,
- You can sit in a chair, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck straight and relaxed, or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your belly just below your rib cage and the other hand on your upper chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly gently rise to push your hand out, while the hand on your chest doesn’t move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling, while tightening your abdominal muscles and letting them fall inwards. Your hand on your belly moves back to its original position as you exhale.
- You can do this 3 to 10 times
2. Nadi Shodhan pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing technique)
Steps for nadi shodhan pranayama:
- Sit with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. You should feel comfortable.
- Place your left hand on your left knee with your palms open facing upwards.
- Now hold your fingers in such a way that the tip of your index finger and middle finger of your right-hand rests gently in between your eyebrows. Let your ring finger and middle finger touch your left nostril while your thumb is next to your right nostril. Use your ring and little finger to open and close the left nostril while breathing while using the thumb for the right nostril.
- Start by pressing your thumb gently on the right nostril and breathe out completely through the left nostril.
- Next, inhale from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with your ring and little finger. Remove the right thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through the right.
- Next, breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. This completes one round of Nadi shodhan pranayama.
- Continue to do this by breathing in and breathing out from alternate nostrils.
- You can do up to 10 rounds of this alternate breathing pranayama, 2-3 times a day.
Things to keep in mind while doing Nadi Shodhan Pranayama:
- Breathe gently. The flow of air should be as gentle as possible. Please make sure that you breathe through your nose and not through your nostrils.
- Place the fingers very lightly on your forehead and nose.
- While you perform the pranayama, check the time you take to inhale and exhale. Your exhalation should be longer than your inhalation.
- It is important to ensure that you practice nadi shodhan pranayama on an empty stomach
3. Bhramari Chanting
This is a calming yoga breathing method. Bhramari pranayama is effective in improving pulmonary function in healthy individuals, says studies. Another study concluded that “Breathing exercises (pranayama), mainly expiratory exercises, improved lung function subjectively and objectively and should be a regular part of therapy.” This pranayama is best practiced on an empty stomach.
How to do Bhramari Pranayam
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Your spine should be straight.
- Place your thumb on your ears. There is cartilage between your cheek and ear. Place your thumb very gently on the cartilage. The other fingers can rest on the crown.
- Your lips should be gently pressed and your mouth should be closed.
- Close your eyes gently with your index and middle fingers. Place your ring fingers below your nose and the little finger under your lower lip.
- Take a deep breath in through your nostrils and as you breathe out, gently press the cartilage with your fingers while making a humming sound like a bee. The sound should be soft and steady. As you get more comfortable with it, you will feel the vibrations through your head and cartilage.
- Breathe in again and continue to do this pranayama 2-4 times. The exhalation should be gentle and prolonged but not more than 15 secs at a time.
Again, be sure to consult your doctor before trying this pranayama as those with ear infections, high blood pressure, frequent chest pains, and epilepsy should not do Bhramari pranayam.
Asthma is a life-altering disease that can affect one’s quality of life. Yoga and pranayama can play an important role in managing the symptoms of asthma. But all exercises must be done with extreme caution, after consulting one’s doctor. Yoga and pranayama can be used as supportive interventions, which will definitely help in the overall management of the condition.