Sunday, August 15, 2010

Can Running cure Asthma?

My inhaler in case of asthma attack.
The answer to the question "Can Running Cure Asthma?"
The Short answer is "No".
Long Answer: See Below.

Asthma (meaning gasp) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that results in airflow obstructions resulting in wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

I suffer from asthma from childhood and I am told that I gravitated between life and death on a number of occasions when I was a baby. As is common with asthma, it sort of disappeared during my youth and I completely forgot about it. That is..until I came to Kuwait. The extreme climate and the desert dust acted as a "trigger" for my asthma and I started getting the asthma attacks. At first, it was just continuous coughing or wheezing twice a year  (when the weather changed from summer to winter and vice-versa). I used to manage it with strong antibiotics and inhalers. However, the disease progressed and the asthma attacks changed from coughing to life-threating attacks where I could not breathe for an extended period of time.

I remember a few occasions when I got the attack while at home, and my wife and children watched in horror and helplessness as I stopped breathing, desperately gulping for air. I started carrying the inhaler everywhere I went and my wife made sure that it was always in my pocket before I left the house.

Asthma, as a disease, cannot be cured. Once you have it, you will carry it with you to the grave. All we can do is understand the trigger points (i.e. what causes the asthma?) and then try to manage it. Different individuals have different trigger points. Mine is dust and cold.

I had resigned myself to a life of inhalers, and uncontrollable coughing through the remainder of my life. That is..until I started running.

Asthma was not on my radar when I started my fitness journey. I started running and resistance workouts because I wanted to get in shape. However, after a few months into workouts, I realized that I was not getting any asthma attacks. I also realized that I could drink cold water or iced drinks and not end up gulping for air.

What exactly happened?

According to research, increased physical activity such as running causes your body to pump more oxygen into your body. This causes the congested air-ways to expand effectively making it easier to breathe and reducing the impact of asthma when the triggers such as dust and cold travel through your body.

It is now 2 years since I last had my asthma attack. I am aware that I am not cured of it - and it will always be there. I am also aware that as long as I keep running and doing other fitness activities, I will be able to get control of my life and not be at the mercy of this disease wondering when and where it will strike - and whether that strike will be fatal or not.

This does not mean asthma patients should put on their shoes and start running. Asthma attacks can occur after physical activity, so whatever activity you decide to do (whether running or resistance training), you should approach it cautiously and slowly to build your strength and stamina. In the initial stages, you may face difficulty as the physical activity itself will act as an attack-trigger. However, by slowly building on your stamina, you will ensure that your airways expand and the asthma attacks should gradually subside. Again, your doctor will advice you on your specific condition and whether physical activity is suitable for your condition or not.

So in summary, the question I should have asked was not whether running can cure asthma, but rather:

"Can you manage asthma with running and other physical activity?"
The empathic answer to that is: "YES"!!


  1. One of the many benefits of running. I work on my breathing while swimming by trying hold my breath as long as I can. Something I've been doing lately is breathing ever 1 stroke for 25 meters, then every thrid/fifth/seventh/ninth. The ninth stroke is a killer but by the end of the workout I feel that my lungs have grown in size. The first time I did this workout I started coughing for a bit right after because of the all air I was able to take in.

    Any tips for breathing while running? I try to inhale from my nose and exhale through my mouth but it’s very hard to maintain when you are under pressure.

  2. While there are specific techniques for breathing while doing resistance workouts (breathe out during positive force and breathe in during negative force), I have not really paid much attention to breathing during running. During the slower run, I breathe normally (in through the nose and out through the mouth). But I find that this is difficult to do when the intensity increases since you need to draw in more air. In this case, I find myself breathing through both the nose and the mouth.
    Until you mentioned this, I never really thought about it. However, if you search through the net, the theory seems to support what I had been instinctively doing all the time (i.e. when running hard, it is better to breathe both through the nose and the mouth in order to deliver more oxygen to the lungs).

  3. @Bader, Your comment made me take a stock of how I breathe during running. I had a great opportunity to check it today.
    I did a 15K run in 1 hour 15 minutes. Every 10 minutes, I was checking how I breathe. This is what I found out.
    In the initial 5-10 minutes, I was breathing normally (through the nose), with a few breaths through the mouth after every 5-10 seconds. After around 15 minutes, I found that I was breathing through the mouth much more regularly (for example, after every 3 breaths through the nose, I would take a gulp of air using the mouth). After the 30 minute mark, it was mostly breathing though the mouth and in the final 15 minutes, I was almost only breathing through the mouth.
    So I think it all depends on how you control your breathing and how you deliver the required oxygen to your lungs. If you force yourself to breathe always through the nose, you will restrict oxygen from reaching your lungs - which can't be good for your running.

  4. Most cases of asthma are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have revealed that asthma does run in families, making children of asthmatic parents especially vulnerable to the condition. In addition, children with an early history of infections and continuous exposure to second-hand smoke are far more likely to develop the condition than other children.

  5. I have been looking for a natural way to help with my asthma. Anyone have any ideas. ?

    respitrol side effects

  6. As most of you reading this probably already know, asthma is caused be an increased, uncontrollable constriction of the bronchiolar airways.

    The sympathetic nerve system, when activated by running or other "fight or flight" actions, serves to open these airways by releasing epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epi and Norepi activate "beta-2" receptors (proteins) that are located on the lining of the bronchiolar airways.

    So, yes, running then could be considered a treatment for asthma. It may not immediately alleviate an attack, but you may start to notice less frequent asthma attacks.

  7. @Ken..Thanks for a more medical explanation.

  8. teaspoon of fresh ginger juice, mixed with a cup of fenugreek decoction and honey to taste, acts as an excellent expectorant in cases of asthma. The decoction of fenugreek can be made by mixing one tablespoon of fenugreek seeds in a cupful of water. This remedy should be taken once in the morning and once in the evening.