For 5 years now, I’ve been heralding the benefits of daily exercise in people who have severe lung disease. That message is plastered all over this blog, and I believe is the reason that Ive lived so long. But wait, just as with every other facet of this frustrating disease, there’s a catch 22.
While there’s no argument that exercise can make a huge difference in the lives of people suffering from lung disease, Ive long suspected that too much exercise also carries with it, the potential for some not so pleasant side effects. Namely, dynamic hyperinflation, aka…. air trapping.
Here’s the deal…. if you have an obstructive lung disease and are prone to air-trapping (which is usually the case if you have severe asthma and to a greater degree if you have COPD or Emphysema), you need to be aware that any physical activity that makes you breath faster and deeper for prolonged periods of time, can also cause you to trap more air, which in turn can make your dyspnea worse and can even trigger a serious, life-threatening exacerbation. That’s right, you heard it from the king of asthmatic marathon walkers… If you exert yourself too much for prolonged periods, you can actually make yourself sick(er)…at least in the short term. The severity of ones lung disease and the propensity for air-trapping (as indicated by TLC and FEV1 ), probably adds to the likelihood that these negative side effects will occur. It also appears that this increased “air trapping”, at least in part, contributes to the delayed onset of symptoms that sometimes follows strenuous activity.
(Btw..the symptoms of air -trapping should not be confused with exercise induced asthma, which is totally different).
Now that’s not say that you shouldn’t exercise. In that regard, my message is the same as it’s always been, and that is….If you have asthma or any obstructive lung disease, you need to get out there and exercise your butt off regularly! Just don’t over do it, and always be aware of your breathing pattern.
Oh..and I should also point out, that it doesn’t seem to be how much exercise you do, but rather, how intense the exercise is , that determines how severe the air-trapping will be. If you participate in a sport such as running or jogging ( and yes, that would include racewalking), you’re probably going to be much more prone to developing increased air trapping than you would with regular fitness walking or from milder forms of exercise.
So for me, does this mean I should stop training and/or stop doing marathons? Probably. Will I follow through on my own advise? Probably Not. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bad habit of over doing it. But, out of the 19 races Ive completed in the past 5 years, only 2 of those landed me in the hospital as a direct result. And don’t forget, non-asthmatic people end up in hospitals too from “over-doing it” .
Hey, I’m short of breath 24/7 anyway, so if pushing myself to the brink is what I need to do to really feel alive, then regardless of the consequences, that’s what I’ll do. I’m willing to take that risk because Id rather be sick and feel happy , then to be healthy and feel miserable. Sounds contradictory I know, but it’s really not. We all deal with our afflictions in different ways.