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Striving for a Better Heart With Asthma

Something that we are consistently reminded of, as asthmatics, is our heart health. In recent years the correlation between heart disease and asthma has become more intertwined, especially in adults with asthma. There is a lot of research exploring possible theories as to why these systems and conditions are correlated, however as asthmatics, many of us face a problem with managing our heart health.

Cardiovascular exercise can either be difficult or triggering for many asthmatics, including myself. This is an article about my recent introduction to cardio exercise via running, my experience so far, and some suggestions on how we, too, can promote our heart health.

My decision to run

For years, my primary exercise has been climbing and yoga. Both of these are great for building strength and flexibility. However, neither promote heart health like other activities like running, swimming or biking.

While on an approach to a climb with my partner, I had to stop on several occasions to gather my breath and slow my heart rate. While the hike was strenuous and at higher altitude, my partner managed much better than I and she is a habitual runner. So, I decided I wanted to start running.

The first run for my health

Running is simple, there’s no equipment needed. My father is even a barefoot runner, though I am starting with shoes. As I started my first run, I seemed to have forgotten what warming up is. Usually, you do warm-up for climbing, but that is usually yoga and finger exercises for injury prevention.

Anyways, I started my first run, in at least a two years, at a steady, yet modest, sprint. I was out of breath and had pains in my ribs within a quarter-mile. Though, I had told myself “…at least a mile…”, so I took a short break and continued at a much slower jog. I was later lectured that this is how I should have started.

The pains in my ribs resurfaced, like spear points that forced shallow breaths. I’d cough if I stopped, so I just kept the slow pace and after about a mile, it got a bit better. After I ended up traveling about 1.75 miles door-to-door my legs felt like jello and my breathing was, well, as expected. I went straight for my rescue inhaler and took the first dose with difficulty. As I sat waiting for the second puff to come, I had a realization; this was a great decision and a terrible plan. It was obvious I needed this kind of preventative health practice in my life, but it was equally obvious I could have been better prepared.

My new plan: Running for heart health

I decided that the first run proved I needed some cardio in my life, but definitely would need some more planning to make it somewhat enjoyable. For the next run, I decided to approach from another angle, by identifying the issues I had on the first run and ticking them off with simple solutions.

Issues:

  1. Started too fast and needed to warm up.
  2. Very dry mouth and muscle soreness.
  3. I was gasping for my inhaler as I walked in the door.

Solutions:

  1. Start slow, and stay slow.
  2. Drink more during the day and hydrate before the run.
  3. Bring my rescue inhaler with me (Obviously).

The second run was much more successful. It took most of the 1.5 mile loop before I got any sort of rib pain. At this point I took a single puff of my inhaler and finished the run with little issue. This was a much more pleasurable experience and I felt as though I had already made a bit of progress. Since then, each run has gotten a little better, I can actually feel my heart health improving as my breathing gets better and I feel like I can continue running longer.

Tips for starting out

Starting a cardio routine can be daunting. In fact, I still skip days all the time. However, as asthmatics, we know that there is a correlation between our asthma and heart complication. We should do everything in our ability to be proactive about keeping our hearts healthy. Here are some tips to start:

  • Find a cardio activity that excites you! That could be running, swimming, biking or even dancing! The goal is consistent movement over an extended period to get your heart pumping
  • Do some research and plan. Learn from my mistakes.
  • Don’t judge yourself on your first, second, third or even tenth try. It takes time to see improvements.
  • Talk to your doctor about an activity that might be best for you and brainstorm with them on ideas for success.
  • Bring your rescue inhaler! Always!

My perspective asthma and heart health

Part of the reason why the asthma-heart disease correlation exists might be because others share my reluctance to go through the difficult exercise. As a life long asthmatic, I have used my asthma as an excuse for why I don’t do cardio. I also hid behind my fitness as a strong climber and yogi, to neglect my cardiovascular health. However, after working cardiovascular exercise into my life, I have realized how important it is and how much I needed it.

My asthma is a challenge but not an excuse. As many asthmatics will understand, I want to control my asthma and not let it dictate what I can do; running is me making the choice. I’d love to hear what you do to promote your heart health.

Share your heart health story

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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