ASTHMA AND EXERCISE FOR CHILDREN
March 14, 2007
By Diane Sabba, M.S.
Asthma affects people of all ages. There are an estimated 20 million Americans who have asthma and nearly five million are children. At least 12 million individuals had asthma attacks in the past year. Asthma is a chronic disease caused by inflammation of the airways. Asthma produces recurring episodes of breathing problems like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but can be controlled.
Asthma is a leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15. Asthma accounts for 14 million lost school days annually. One in six pediatric emergency visits are related to asthma in the United States. Adults lose thousands of workdays and many parents take time away from work to care for their children. Lost productivity among parents of children with asthma results in indirect costs of more than $1 billion each year. The annual cost of treating children with asthma is estimated at $1.9 billion.
Asthma can be life threatening if it is not properly managed. Asthma kills over 5,000 Americans annually, but it is a manageable disease, so no one should have to die of asthma. Asthma-related deaths are rare amongst children but do increase with age.
Since children spend many hours of a day at school, asthma usually affects the child’s life there. Children may need to take their medications during school or take special preventive measures to avoid attacks. Several studies have confirmed an association between severe asthma and behavioral problems. In addition, side effects from medicines may influence the child’s school performance, though most medications for children today are safe.
Many children with asthma miss out on childhood fun. Lifelong physical fitness is important for all children with asthma. The benefits are great and children should not restrict their physical activities, as exercise builds lung power. About a quarter of the children with asthma become symptom-free when their airways reach adult size. All children with asthma can have their symptoms alleviated if they, their parents, schools, and teachers understand the disease, management techniques, and medications. By learning how to control a child’s asthma, they can make it easier for their students to participate fully and safely in physical activities and sports. Asthma is serious and children’s medicine should stay with them everywhere they go. Awareness is important and children need to have their rescue inhalers with them at all times, especially while playing and exercising.
These benefits can improve the child’s asthma in the long run. If the asthma is usually well controlled, but the child has a cold, flu, or other respiratory infection, the child could be more likely to get symptoms while exercising. It may be a good idea for the child to exercise less while getting over a chest infection.
Lifelong physical fitness is an important goal for all children. Studies have shown that a child who is physically fit and exercises will have less asthma attacks. 80-90% of asthmatics also have exercise-induced asthma. In other words, exercise can be a trigger for children when their asthma in not under good control. Children with asthma should not avoid exercising. Exercising is recommended to keep the child’s lungs and body in good shape. It has been proven that overweight children have two times the risk of developing asthma, so that makes it ever so important for those children to exercise.
All asthmatic children can do sports. Many world-class athletes suffer from exercise-induced asthma such as Olympic Gold medallist swimmers, Amy Van Dyken and Tom Dolan, diver Greg Louganis, football player Jerome Bettis (aka The Bus), and the great track and field star, Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Exercise is a very common asthma trigger. Each child with asthma will have a different level of tolerance to exercise. Control of their asthma will determine participation in many sports and activities, though highly strenuous conditions can provoke asthma in some children even with optimal conditions. Children can learn to pace themselves, recognize symptoms early and appropriately respond. Aerobic sports, requiring continuous activity, can bring on exercise-induced asthma more often than anaerobic activities, those that have rests and are more intermittent.
High asthma-inducing activities: Low asthma-inducing activities:
Long-distance running Volleyball
Ice hockey Gymnastics
Ice skating Wrestling
Cross-country skiing Golf
Remaining behind in the gym or sitting on the bench can set the stage for loss of self-esteem, teasing by others, and low levels of physical fitness. Physical fitness is important for a child’s good health and should not be avoided. Remember that every child with asthma may exercise and have fun!
Notes from Author: Currently, I am fighting to get my life back. I lost my health from the effects of dangerous levels of toxic mold in my apartment nine years ago. I developed Acute Asthma and I have found that physical fitness and exercise helped me survive and become stronger. I continue to recover. I believe that exercise should be prescribed as a preventative medicine. I dedicate my research and teaching to our children, for they are our future. I emphasize that physical activity is most important in a culture that has become sedentary and unhealthy. As an Exercise Consultant with the American Lung Association Orange County, my research and the longer, detailed version of the above article have been used for the Lung Association’s Asthma and Exercise for Children Program in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, California. My goal is to make the program national.