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Asthma and VO2 Max



Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author

When I met my husband he suffered from asthma, but over the years it has virtually disappeared. So how did he do it?

Those who suffer from Asthma, characterised by frequent episodes of breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing, know that this chronic inflammatory disease is not much fun. Couple this affliction with related diseases like gastro-esophageal reflux, rhinosinusitis and obstructive sleep apnea, and it can be downright deadly.

Whilst it’s not completely understood why some individuals suffer from asthma, and to differing degrees, what is agreed is that cardiovascular exercise can assist in reducing the severity of it. No you can’t always control the air you breathe, but you can control how much air capacity your lungs have, this is known as the maximal oxygen consumption or VO2 max.

Unfortunately most people who suffer from asthma avoid exercise altogether as it often brings on an attack due to exercise-induced inflammation of the bronchial tubes, making it hard to breathe.  But research shows that asthma sufferers who take the plunge and strengthen their lungs by increasing their VO2 max have much better resistance to attacks simply because their lungs can function more efficiently.

When I first met my husband he was using an inhaler multiple times a day. I have to admit that I soon become oblivious to that distinctive sound the inhaler makes as it injects its sometimes lifesaving dose.

Having never suffered from any breathing issues I was perhaps not as understanding as I could have been when it came to his asthma curtailing our activities.  With a new and very active life together he soon strived to achieve the effortless level of breathing I enjoyed. In his aim to throw away his inhaler here’s what he did.

1. First, he avoided any asthma triggers like ‘unclean’ air environments, in particular smoke-filled environments, excessive air pollution and allergens.

2. Second, he learned and regularly practiced deep breathing exercises to start to increase his lung capacity and also as a way to calm down should an attack begin.

3. Third, he started low cardio exercise by simply walking. Gradually he walked further and faster, eventually even up very steep hills.

4. Fourth, he sought out higher intensity exercises, his favourite being water aerobics. Once a gentle pastime created to keep the elderly more active, when practised in deeper water at a higher intensity it is one of the most beneficial low-impact cardiovascular activities around. Try racing someone the length of a pool holding foam dumbbells and you’ll see what I mean.

Did these four steps work? You bet they did and that ‘puffer’ sound is now a distant memory. And whilst he still has his inhaler in case of emergency, he hasn’t used it for years.

Sigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book “Half The Woman I Was – How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market. Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

Gary (Gaz) Wagner – Founder and Master Trainer Juggernaut Personal Training

VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, is the maximum volume of oxygen that can be utilised during one minute of maximal or exhaustive exercise. VO2 max is regarded as the best predictor of aerobic performance.

According to an article titled published by Leith and Bradley in the Journal of Applied Physiology, VO2 max is tightly linked with the breathing pattern and body oxygenation of the athlete at rest, therefore if the involuntary breathing pattern is changed, then VO2 max will change as well.

Asthma, which is a respiratory condition does not necessarily decrease the athletes VO2 max, but it can severely inhibit the intake of oxygen, particularly during stressful activities. In doing so, Asthma can also limit the amount of oxygen in the blood.

A study conducted in England and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine assessed the effect of endurance running training on asthmatic adults. The study recruited nine mild-to-moderate asthmatic individuals and six non-asthmatic individuals. Each person then did endurance training three times a week for consecutive weeks. They trained on treadmills using selected running speeds. The findings of the study indicated that after five weeks of endurance training similar improvement of VO2 max (approximately 7 percent) were evident in both groups. But during the sub-maximal exercise, asthmatic participants demonstrated a significant reduction in the blood lactate concentrations while the non-asthmatics showed no change. The study also showed that both groups were able to sustain a higher percentage of VO2 max in the two mile time trial after the study concluded. Overall, the study found that steady endurance running was beneficial for the asthmatic participants whilst minimising undue respiratory stress.

In another study conducted in Glasgow a ‘progressive incremental exercise test’ was carried out in 44 subjects with mild-to-moderate asthma and 64 subjects without asthma. Healthy subjects were matched for habitual activity, to compare cardio-respiratory fitness and to determine the relative contribution of airflow obstruction to exercise limitation. The two groups achieved similar heart rates during exercise. The findings revealed that asthmatics had lower maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) than the control group. The three measures of cardiovascular fitness, being VO2 max, anaerobic threshold and oxygen pulse were also lower in asthmatics. In this study, being asthmatic accounted for a significant reduction in anaerobic threshold and oxygen pulse among participants. Researchers concluded that modified incremental aerobic activity, which emphasize control of heart rate and breath, could have practical application in allowing individual exercise prescription for people with asthma.

Swimming has long been anecdotally known as being good for the health of asthmatics. Why? Well it assists in the conscious control of breath, with and steady laps stabilising an elevated heart rate. Swimming therefore reinforces the data realised in the studies mentioned.

Overall, it can therefore be said that it that an asthmatic’s VO2 max could benefit from a properly progressed and monitored endurance training program. This, over time, could then reduce the affects of asthma.

Gary Wagner RopesAs a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer for the public, corporate and sporting world, I impart a “if you want it, you can achieve it attitude” to my juggernauts. This allows me to train them to continually higher levels for their fitness, strength conditioning and fat-loss goals. The human body has truly amazing potential for adaptation when a challenge is set before it, whether it’s an ordinary person looking to achieve the extraordinary endurance event, an executive wanting a fitter, stronger body to handle the stresses and challenges of the business world, a former non-exerciser who wants to take total health turn-around or anyone who wants unstoppable levels of fitness in a low-fat, lean, toned and healthy body. I have the means to transform you into a resilient fitness machine with an unstoppable mindset. With a better conditioned body you will be better equipped to take life’s challenges head on. Stay Strong. Train Smart, Hard and be Unstoppable with JuggernautPT.

Phil Owens – Leading Australian Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner

Asthma is a physiological response to stimuli which leads to spasm of the bronchiolar system, and a reduction in a person’s ability to breathe properly.  There is no doubt that appropriate management of the response can be critical to alleviating the distress of an asthma sufferer, plus this can have a big impact on their ability to breathe.  But is there another side to asthma?

The other side of asthma is in the triggering. So while there is absolutely no doubt that the RESPONSE is physiological, we need to ask what triggers asthma?

Environmental stimuli such as pollens and smoke can provoke an asthma attack.  These are physical triggers.  However, there are other factors that can trigger asthma attacks. Two of these are stress and fear. These a ‘psychological’ triggers – that is, there is nothing physical or environmental that is driving the asthma attack, but rather the person’s state of mind is having a massive impact on their outcome.  Stress and fear release hormones and transmitters can set off asthma, and, at times, a  person can literally ‘think’ themselves into an asthma attack because of their state of mind.

Consider how many top swimmers ’retrain’ their respiratory systems to deal with the stress of swimming and racing and ‘cure’ themselves of asthma.  It is a common reason to get kids swimming – the retraining of breathing patterns under stress leads to asthma often being diminished.  The respiratory system ‘learns’ new and more appropriate ways to deal with stress and is strengthened physically.

However, this does not mean that environmental triggers will not still cause asthma. But it is interesting that it is possible to eliminate the psychological causes and re-train the response.

Consider the other scenario, known as secondary gain.  Psychologically, I can ‘induce’ asthma or I can overcome it.  I have seen people in martial arts competitions ‘decide’ that they were losing and the response was an asthma attack.  When they were winning, where was the asthma?  Their asthma, psychologically, gave them a ‘free pass’.  It wasn’t their performance, but their asthma, that made them lose.  The other way that asthma plays out psychologically is that kids can learn that by having an asthma attack they gain extra attention.  Everyone becomes so concerned about them when they have an attack. So when they are feeling left out, what can they do to gain attention?  Without thinking they induce an asthma attack.

Asthma is a real physiological response.  Anyone who has suffered from an asthma attack will know how terrible they can be.  However, if the trigger in some instances in not physical or environmental, but psychological, and people can ‘train’ themselves out of asthma, isn’t it worth considering asthma not as a disease but as more of a response?  And in this case, being clear of the trigger and addressing this can be the most effective way to develop long term solutions for the sufferer.

Philip Owens is owner and director of Reflective Resolutions and is a leading Australian hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner based in Melbourne, Australia. Using scientifically validated and pragmatic approaches, Philip is a passionate about creating lasting change in and for his clients.

Working in his clinic with individuals and also with corporate clients, Philip’s international experience, state of the art training and processes have led to successful and happy clients all over the world.  Focusing on the issues of modern life, Philip routinely works with clients presenting with anxiety, fears and phobias, addictions, traumas, weight loss, insomnia and smoking cessation.

Disclaimer: The information published in this column is based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinon is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional  or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.
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14 thoughts on “Asthma and VO2 Max”

  1. I had childhood asthma. But I also grew up with 4 brothers and we chased each other around during childhood and played sports. I was a sprinter in high school, ran cross country (I was never any good and the inhaler came in handy) and became a marathoner in my 40s. I still use the inhaler on cold days to prevent post-run wheezing and I have had my share of pneumonia (because I am not nearly as bulletproof as I think). Inhaler use for asthma attacks ended during high school. My new Garmin measures VO2 max and I have to say that it has been a big surprise that a life of running translates into not only a good VO2 max, but a high score for an old guy.

  2. This really makes sense. It’s nice to find a high-quality site that isn’t rubbish.

  3. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both educational and amusing. But, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

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