Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)

Fit to Breathe

Published March - 11 - 2010 Print This Post

By Lisa Dorfman, RD, CSSD, and Chef Michelle Austin

Be honest. You’re among friends–you can admit the truth. That New Year’s resolution to be fit and healthy is teetering just a wee bit, right? After all, this has been a tough asthma, cold and flu season for most of the country, and darned near impossible to keep up with work, kids and running errands—much less running a mile.

The good news is that it’s never too late to regroup and get back on track. The key is knowing that a fit and healthy body means more than fitting into your jeans or getting rid of that muffin top from your kids. The more fit the family, the better everyone breathes.

The Catch-22 for adults and parents of children with asthma is that we’re taught to slow down and rest during asthma flares. While this advice may be accurate, it was never intended as a long-term solution to controlling asthma. 
It’s no secret that asthma rates have doubled in the past two decades. It’s the fifth leading chronic disease among children under 18 in the U.S., and it’s the third most common cause of child hospitalization for children 15 years and younger.

But the lesser appreciated stats concern the correlation between obesity and asthma. Factor in the escalating rate of obesity—which tripled from 6.1 to 17.6 percent over the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)–and it’s hard to ignore this dual issue.

Obesity doesn’t just happen overnight. It sneaks up on you, and in the case of adults and children with asthma and COPD, the consequences are even more serious. So how do you fix things?

Contrary to what many parents might think, exercise is great for children with asthma. A John Hopkins study found that 20 percent of all children with asthma don’t exercise enough, primarily due to parent’s fear of exercise-induced episodes. And while kids may prefer to watch TV or play video and computer games rather than run the risk of an attack, there are ways for parents to encourage them to explore safe and fun ways to exercise to keep their bodies and minds fit.

It doesn’t happen overnight—whether you’re starting a healthy new routine for yourself or helping a child with a respiratory issue, including exercise in one’s daily routine is a process.

First step is to talk with your doctor and get a written asthma action plan that includes being able to exercise without fear of an asthma flare-up. Next, you need your body to be well-fed and hydrated. Eat a balanced diet and drink enough fluid to support physical activity (especially for people with food allergies!). A healthy diet paired with exercise has been shown to strengthen bones, the heart and the immune system, which means fewer cases of colds, flu and other viruses.

The mind-body connection

A healthy diet-and-exercise combo improves moods and stress levels. Being able to participate in school and community sports programs like their peers is also a way for kids with asthma to shake off the stigma of isolation and feeling like the last person anyone wants on their team. Healthy eating and an active lifestyle also boost concentration.

An upbeat attitude toward exercise can make all the difference in sticking with a healthy new lifestyle change. Studies show that people develop habits in childhood, good or bad—and these tend to last a lifetime. Rather than accommodating asthma, families can plan together to overcome it!

Experiment with exercise. During a flare, try yoga. Doesn’t burn many calories but simple positions and deep-breathing exercises ease your airways into higher levels of performance.

Experiment with food! When you expand your horizons, opening up to activities and healthy foods—you’re giving your body beneficial new nutrients, getting fit and having fun!

Don’t get bummed out over food allergies either! It’s possible to eat a healthy balanced diet even though it may not be the one you grew up eating or consider normal. About 90 percent of all food allergies are typically caused by only 8 foods—tree nuts, shellfish, milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanuts and fish. This leaves hundreds of different foods to choose from when creating healthy meals. Think fresh. Think whole foods vs. packaged. Saves money, leaves less waste and tastes better! Saves time reading food labels as well!

First published: Allergy & Asthma Today, Spring 2010

Chef Michelle Austin is a chef, founder of On Thyme Consulting and contributor to SOBeFiT magazine. She’s also co-owner and creative director of Just to Please You Productions, an event production and consulting company, and has been featured on food and design segments on NBC and CBS. Michelle lives in Miami with her daughter, Gabrielle.

Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, is a licensed nutritionist, board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and counseling, and author of 5 books. Lisa is also an adjunct professor at the University of Miami’s Department of Exercise and Sports Science, nutritionist for the Miami Hurricanes and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sailing teams and nutrition editor for SOBeFiT magazine. She lives in Miami with her husband and three children.

Medical editors: Robert Bahadori, MD and Neil MacIntyre Jr, MD

Smart Starts:

Fuel up before and refuel after exercise. We lose fluids through sweat and our muscles use up carbohydrate energy. In order for our bodies to recover completely after exercise, we need to replenish these resources. Post-exercise fuel should be consumed within 30 minutes to two hours after exercising. An easy way to refuel is with a healthy shake.

Chef Michelle’s Recovery Shake

You can make this shake with any favorite fruits and vegetables in place of the berries. There’s no need to add sugar—fruits have natural sugars of their own.

4 oz vanilla Greek yogurt *
1/4 cup quinoa*
1/2 cup mixed berries (like strawberries and blueberries)
1/2 kiwi*
2 oz beet juice
2 oz filtered water

*Greek yogurt has more protein, less lactose and fewer carbs than regular yogurt. Substitute tofu-, soy- or any milk-based yogurt if you like. 
Quinoa is a wheat-free grain from Africa. Many ancient civilizations used it, but most Americans are unfamiliar with this tasty treat. It has the consistency of small couscous, a mild flavor that cooks in minutes and is great for shakes, salads and side dishes. 
Kiwi – do you have latex allergies? Allergic to bananas? Substitute the kiwi with a fruit you enjoy.

Click here for the nutrition facts.

Step by Step

Studies show that exercising on a routine basis reduces the amount of medication needed to control asthma symptoms, and also reduces the number of asthma attacks. Exercise improves lung capacity—the more fit you are, the less likely you are to experience an asthma attack. Resistance training (working out with weights and doing exercises that work your muscles) most likely won’t provoke asthma attacks. Here’s a customized routine created by Marta Montenegro, founder, CEO, publisher and editor-in-chief of SOBeFiT magazine, specifically for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Before you begin any workout regimen, check with your doctor to determine how much you can exercise based on your fitness level and asthma condition. People with well-controlled asthma should be able to sleep, work and play like everyone else.

  • Keep asthma medications (such as a bronchodilator) handy when working out in case you become short of breath.
  • Take plenty of time to warm up and cool down—at least 10 minutes for each.
  • Walking, baseball, gymnastics and swimming are great activities for people with asthma!
  • For more high-intensity sports and activities (such as running or soccer), start slow. Gradually increase the intensity over time.
  • Avoid exercising outside on days when air pollution is high or in cold or dry air. If you have seasonal allergies, you might need to avoid activities on high pollen days, as well. Talk with an allergist about immunotherapy if your allergies keep you from doing your favorite activities.
  • If you start to have asthma symptoms during exercise—stop, and follow your asthma action plan, including medication if necessary. When symptoms go away, you can resume your workout. If you still feel short of breath, you should stop exercising, use medication as necessary and consult your doctor for advice.

Source: Chan Tran, executive staff writer for SOBeFiT magazine