Is exercise dangerous for someone with asthma problems?

The short and sweet answer: not at all. "The bottom line is," says Paul D. Scanlon, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Pulmonary Clinical Research Center, "that asthmatics can exercise just like anybody else and can achieve the highest level of exercise performance."

Though exercise may increase the chances of an asthma attack (bronchospasm), the real dangers of asthma are generally more a cause of improper attention and care. "Appropriate management of asthma with all except the most severe of asthmatics can basically take care of any concerns or problems," says Scanlon.  Staying on top of medication and avoiding illness when possible can prevent and curb the chances of asthma attacks during exercise, enabling any asthmatic to reach their fitness goals. 

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There are some types of exercise that are "safer" than others for asthmatics. But the safety factor of these exercises often has more to do with environmental conditions. Swimming in warm water, for example, is generally considered a safer option not because of the particular body movements or breathing techniques, but because the warmth and and humidity of the pool improve the performance of the respiratory system. 

Light exercise is another good way to get an idea of what your body is capable of, but merely being an asthmatic shouldn't scare you away from bigger goals and intense workouts. Of course, you should consult with your physician on developing an appropriate workout routine and medication regimen. Flu shots and an overall healthy lifestyle are recommended to prevent lung illnesses, but in the long run, sticking to you medication (whether it's inhalers or corticosteroids) can greatly improve asthmatic symptoms over time.

Scanlon offers an inspirational moment in history to stymie any fears or misbeliefs. The 1984 Summer Olympics proved to be a big win for the asthma world: "The asthmatics on that U.S. Olympic team actually performed better than the non-asthmatics in terms of winning medals in the Olympic competitions." He adds, "It just goes to show, you don't have to consider asthmatics as handicapped in terms of competing on an elite level."  

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