Why should I exercise?

Exercise Sucks: Why Should I?

I get it: Exercise can suck. Especially if you have exercise induced asthma, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s better for you not to exercise.
Except, you’re lying to yourself. Exercise is equally important, if not more crucial, for people with asthma. Here’s why.

More energy… Or, better energy efficiency

It seems counterintuitive but it’s true: more activity = more energy in the long run! Exercise increases the efficiency of your body—your heart has to beat fewer times per minute, because it is more efficient at pumping the blood around your body (this is why resting heart rate is often used as one indicator of fitness—remember, if you have asthma, some of your meds may increase your resting heart rate).

The more fit you are, the more efficiently your heart, lungs, and muscles function—just to name a few things. This means that movement becomes more streamlined—you’ll burn less energy doing everyday or boring things, leaving you more energy for the things you want to do! So, in the end, exercise gives you more energy, even beyond that initial endorphin high some people get, in the long run.

Improve your breathing by losing weight

The muscle beneath your lungs, the diaphragm, pushes up to assist air to flow out of your lungs, and pulls down to allow your lungs room to expand. If you carry extra weight on your abdomen, however, your diaphragm has to do a lot more work to do its job—for people with really severe asthma, even a few pounds can make a huge difference in how well they can breathe. Some research has even indicated a decrease in asthma symptoms with regular exercise—and, if exercise induced asthma is well managed (usually simply by using a rescue medication 10-15 minutes prior to beginning), there is not a demonstrated increase in risk of asthma symptoms, or severity of these symptoms 1.

Balance out your brain

While asthma is not a psychological condition, people with asthma are at higher risk for developing mental health problems, notably depression and anxiety 2. While it’s normal to get a little anxious if you can’t breathe well, or have days where your asthma seems to make you feel more depressed than others, if these things occur more than once in a while, it’s important to visit your doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. Remember: people with asthma are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to experience anxiety, depression or substance abuse, than those without asthma—you are not alone! 3

The good news? Exercise has been shown to be equally or more effective than some pharmaceutical treatments for these conditions (however, medications can be very helpful for a lot of people, and also assist in improving symptoms to allow you to change your behaviour) 4, 5, 6. In the long term, one study indicated that those who used exercise as treatment for depression instead of antidepressants had a 30% higher rate of success in remaining in remission—38% of the exercise group remained in remission after the study vs. just 8% of those taking medications 6.

Remember: do not discontinue or change your treatment plan for depression or anxiety without guidance from your doctor.

For people with anxiety disorders, one research trial group showed that after an exercise intervention study, the fittest individuals had the lowest levels of anxiety after the trial period had ended6. There may also be a preventative effect of exercise on anxiety and depression: people who achieved vigorous exercise regularly may be 25% less likely to develop either condition in the next 5 years 7. As rates of anxiety with asthma may be between 39 and 47% among people with asthma, and depression between 22 and 32% 8, if you have asthma, you have a significantly lower chance of developing these mental health conditions if you exercise regularly! 6 And… it can be as easy as a daily 10 minute walk to receive these benefits, increasing as you feel ready 7

Have more fun!

The more you can do, the more you believe you can do, will more than likely encourage you to try new things… which leads to more fun! Exercise may help to improve a person’s physical self-concept (non-specific to exercise) 8. Physical self-concept is further broken down as how you feel about your...

  • sport/athletic competence (ability to perform athletic or physical activities)
  • physical condition (ability to sustain activity, fitness level)
  • body image/attractiveness (personal perception about your own body, confidence in your body and attractiveness—what you think, not others!)
  • strength (as well as confidence to use possessed physical strength)
  • and physical self-worth (feeling satisfaction, confidence and respect towards your body… or, generally feeling happy about your body, as it is.) 9

Those who have generally positive thoughts in these areas, are more likely to be willing to try new physical endeavours—which further assists in maintaining physical self concept 10. While it may not be transferrable to adults, kids with asthma often experience lower perceptions in their physical abilities 11 but, it doesn’t hurt for adults with asthma to be mindful of this, as well.
Get out there, try new things, grow and have fun at the same time!

Putting it all together

Nobody can exercise for you, and nobody—despite what your fitness buff friends might think—can force you to exercise. That’s why it’s important to find reasons why you believe exercise is important to you, and have your own reasons to exercise regularly—while I outlined a few reasons here, there are hundreds of other reasons for being active that might encourage you more… probably many that you already know, or can easily find, that have nothing to do with asthma…

  • Does exercise help you feel more energetic?
  • Do you want to be able to play with your kids or grandkids, or other children in your life—even if that involves chasing them around the yard or climbing play structures?
  • Does being more active help you reduce your risk of heart disease or another chronic disease that is linked to both genetics and lifestyle choices, that your grandfather, mother and brother developed?

Write down your reasons to exercise, and put them somewhere that they can give you a nudge next time you hit a slump—then, use them to motivate you to get back on track… One step at a time.

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