As Great Britain basks in the glory of our Olympic achievements, there’s an important take home message from the games that should not be overlooked. A quarter of our athletic squad suffers from asthma, yet this hasn’t hindered their success.
Olympians are three times more likely to have asthma than the rest of the population, but why? Experts suggest that hours of intensive training each day, pushing their bodies to the maximum limit, breathing heavily and breathing through their mouths – a combination known to trigger asthma symptoms – puts the athletes at risk. Large volumes of cold, dry air taken into the lungs via the mouth irritates the delicate lining of the airways causing the muscular walls to spasm, triggering asthma. Breathing like this also exposes the lungs to greater volumes of other irritants and allergens.
What can we all learn from this? That learning to breathe in a controlled manner can help to alleviate asthma symptoms. Indeed, in one study breathing exercises reduced dependence on reliever medication by more than 80%. Although there is no evidence to suggest that this has a significant impact on the underlying causes of asthma or indeed the need for preventative medicine, learning to breath through your nose and using your diaphragm and abdomen rather than the muscles of the upper chest, and controlling respiration to eight to ten breaths per minute (at rest) may help to control the debilitating symptoms.
So, those of us who suffer from asthma should follow the lead of our sporting heroes and not allow the condition to be a hurdle to athletic excellence.