I like to exercise. I also have both eczema and asthma. I don’t talk a lot about asthma on this blog, mainly because it’s quite well controlled (thankfully) and doesn’t impact my daily life like eczema does, but many people, like me, are in the same boat with the “atopic triad” of allergies, asthma, and eczema. So this post is my take and my musings on exercising with both of these conditions.
I have been on Singulair for about 10 years. I just take one pill every evening, and I’m generally able to exercise and do whatever I want, wherever I want. I do have a rescue inhaler (ProAir), but I barely need to use it. My asthma, though, if it comes on, is usually exercise-induced. There are three instances in where I will get short of breath and feel my asthma start to affect me:
- If it is very hot and humid out. This doesn’t happen much in the upper Midwest here, but when it does, this will actually make me SUPER short of breath. I have woken up (rarely) during a hot summer morning barely able to breathe and grasping around frantically for my rescue inhaler. This is also where I have an audible whistling wheeze when breathing, because my airway is just so narrowed. During these infrequent situations, exercise is completely out of the question, as I get winded just existing and schlepping around the house.
- If I am exercising hard in very cold weather.
- If I have started to exercise reasonably hard without a warm-up.
If you are reading this blog and you’re a non-asthma sufferer, here is an approximation of what it feels like to have asthma. Take a big breath. Really big. As big as you can. Go on, try it! Did you do it? Holding your breath? Good. Now try to take another breath on top of that one. Feel how uncomfortable it is to try and suck down more air? Of course, that would simulate REALLY BAD asthma, so to simulate more mild asthma, take like half a big breath. It’s still an uneasy feeling to know you can’t get a full amount of air into your lungs.
My advice to other exercising asthma sufferers: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the power of the warm-up. I am an impatient person when it comes to exercise. I want to go out and do it, get it done, feel accomplished, and move on with my day. I want to launch into high energy activities like running and kickboxing FULL TILT. I do not like to warm up! But, I know that I will often start to get that uncomfortable feeling, maybe even start to wheeze a little. It is so much better if I ease into it gradually, or if I do a warm-up for 5-10 minutes first. Cooling down is also a good idea.
Also be aware that having asthma can make you tired during exercise. Even if you are not actively wheezing or feel short of breath, your airways might still feel compromised and the respiratory muscles of a person with asthma have to work harder to get that air in. Sure, I have had days where I had to cut my exercise short because of this, and felt very disappointed. However, I have kept at it and been able to build up my cardiovascular fitness and do lots of fun exercise-y things, like a 2 hour kickboxing jam, a 60 mile bike ride, and a full marathon.
No matter what your state of eczema or how uncomfortable your skin, I am a firm believer that exercise is always good for you. The release of stress, the increase in circulation, the psychological benefit to your self-esteem and well-being – all excellent. It doesn’t even have to be hard exercise where you sweat, as sweat can irritate eczema. Walking, light yoga, and weight training are all good choices that are not extremely sweaty activities.
For me, I don’t generally get too itchy DURING activity – the exercise itself is usually enough of a distraction. But, when exercise is over, if I am really sweaty and let the sweat sit on my body (i.e., if I don’t get to shower immediately after), or have been wearing clothing tight to the body that holds the sweat in, I can start to get itchy.
However, this can be a double-edged sword. Although theoretically I should be wearing very light, loose, minimal clothing so that the sweat won’t get trapped, sometimes I simply cannot wear shorts without feeling self-conscious, if I have rashes and am in a public place like a gym. Tank tops are usually no problem as my arms are often okay, but my legs have been one of my worst rash sites for years. Even when they are rash-free, I have lots of scars from scratching. I belonged to a large gym in the past, where there were rows and rows of treadmills, and I could kind of hide away in a corner treadmill with minimal worry that people could see that I had eczema. Here, I would run in running shorts, but as soon as I was done, I would put on athletic pants and THEN be able to walk back to the weight-lifting floor or back out of the gym feeling covered up and secure.
Another option if you want to get really sweaty and get a great workout, but don’t want to worry about feeling on display, are group fitness classes. Depending on the gym (and this held true for the one I went to), the classes are often held in semi-darkness with dim lighting. Also, I guarantee people aren’t checking out your skin… they’re too busy concentrating on their own moves during the class. I would go and take a spot near the back row, bring a long sleeved tech shirt and/or pants with me, exercise in shorts, etc., and then put on the covering-up clothing before I walked out of the studio door into the bright lighting. I’m actually considering going back to this gym – I haven’t belonged to it for months just ’cause I have had a bad bout of feeling very self conscious, eczema-wise, and also I’ve been simply exercising outside which is free. I also want to go back to the gym as I would like to become more regular about doing yoga – I think the calming meditative aspect of it might benefit my eczema in situations where I scratch simply out of habit and/or stress.
Home exercise also must not be underestimated. I will be frank that I get kind of lazy and unfocused if all I have is an exercise DVD. I find it hard to get the motivation to do it, since there are always other things I could be doing around the house. I would much rather exercise outside if I can. But, I have been using some P90x on DVD here and there, and it is nice to be able to wear whatever I want and not have to worry about anyone seeing, since I’m in the privacy of my own home.
What are your experiences exercising with eczema and/or asthma? Are there any activities you avoid? What are your favorite ways to exercise?