Breathing and Running

You can argue that nothing is more important than learning how to breathe properly when you run. Yet, breathing exercises are often overlooked and shortness of breath is treated by increasing miles or speed. Without proper breathing, runners can suffer from side aches, mental distractions, anxiety, and injuries that are caused from lack of focus or poor posture, all of which stem from decreased oxygen.

In recent years, diaphragm exercises have received more attention and praise. Learning how to completely fill our lungs from top to bottom in a smooth breathing pattern is something that takes just as much practice as any outward physical coordination. And the results are fantastic. Increased focus and the ability to calm yourself in tense situations are some of the main benefits.

Asthma and Other Respiratory Challenges

Although we do it unconsciously from the moment we are born, breathing takes work, and can be very difficult at times. Even those without any illnesses can benefit from learning how to breath properly, both at rest and during exercise.

The most common respiratory illness we see in the running community is asthma. Simply, asthma is a condition in which the airways are inflamed and consequently reduced in size, making it difficult to breath. It is widely known, and the maintenance of this illness is straight forward for the most part if we understand the treatments.

How is Asthma Treated?

Even if you don’t personally know anyone with asthma, you have probably seen one of the colorful blue, red, or purple inhalers. Using inhalers is the main treatment method for asthma. Dr. John Dickinson from the University of Kent explains that there are two basic types of inhalers.

The first type of inhaler is used on a regular, scheduled basis. Its purpose is to dampen the inflammatory process inside of your lungs. It takes two weeks or so for this to build up into your system, and should be continually used.

The second type of inhaler (a salbutamol or rescue inhaler) works within a minute or two, immediately opening up the airways. This inhaler should be used on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Dickinson says that the first inhaler can typically be enough to keep symptoms down if used properly. The common issues he sees in athletes is a dependency on the salbutamol inhaler, which doesn’t get to the root of the problem. The body will also build up a resistance to this second inhaler, demanding stronger doses and increasing risks of side-effects.

If you do have asthma, be sure to work with your doctor. Determining what kind of treatment is right for you should be done individually.

How do I Know if I Have Asthma?

Asthma is brought on by a reaction to something. This is often from a reaction to pollution, an allergic reaction, or exercise. The symptoms of asthma almost always happen after exercise is completed, making it difficult to pinpoint.

Some of the most common symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, tightness of chest, and wheezing. These may be triggered during exercise, and as previously mentioned, may only be present post-exercise.

There is only about a 50% chance that a doctor will diagnosis you correctly simply based on the knowledge of your symptoms. That means, you are just as likely to guess as to whether or not you have asthma. This is why it is imperative to do testing in order to determine your condition. Ask your doctor about an objective test, one that actually looks at your lung functioning.

Even if you are an elite athlete, it’s not out of the question that you have asthma. It is still possible to train at high levels with asthma. If you have some of the common symptoms, consult a doctor.

Breathing Exercises for All

Most people know that breathing into your upper chest isn’t the most efficient way to fill your lungs. However, did you know that your chest and abdomen should fill from top to bottom, front to back, and side to side? The expansion of each should be done in one motion, meaning that you shouldn’t see a large increase in the chest before the lower abdomen and vice-versa.

Like the sides of a balloon, each part of your lung should expand at the same time. Many people get the front to back and top to bottom but neglect the sides of the rib cage expanding. Next time you have a moment (probably right this second) take in a breath and try to expand every part simultaneously.

Asthma Won’t Slow You Down!

You can definitely live and thrive with asthma. Respiratory problems can be depressing for an athlete, but there are ways to overcome. There are many sports therapists, doctors and the like, that are willing and able to help you conquer your breathing. Don’t be discouraged, and know there are many examples of athletes with asthma that have massive success. Encourage those around you, and keep running!


John at the University of Kent

More Info on Asthma

Dr. James Hull

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asthma, breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, illness, inhaler, lungs, respiratory challenges, shortness of breath, wheezing

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