Exercise is important for everyone; it reduces stress and improves overall health and wellbeing. If your child has asthma, you may be hesitant to encourage them to play sport or exercise frequently, as it may worsen their asthma symptoms, or they may feel panicked when they get out of breath during exercise.
However, supporting your child with asthma to participate in sport or exercise is beneficial for them and their asthma. Exercise can improve lung capacity, blood flow, and is calming, fulfilling and fun. People who are active usually find they have less asthma and cope better when they do have it.
Asthma can be isolating for a child, especially if their asthma is severe and they feel as if they are missing out on experiences because of their condition. Participating in sport will help them feel as if they can do normal things that their peers can do, thus improving self-esteem and confidence.
Before your child begins any sport or exercise, you should have a conversation with them about managing their asthma effectively to stay safe. Speak to your healthcare practitioner, nurse or asthma educator if you have any concerns. Some things to discuss include:
1. Proper use of their asthma medication. Asthma symptoms need to be under control before beginning any sporting activity. Your child should be using their preventer inhaler correctly and as prescribed , and should have their reliever inhaler close at hand when they are active. For example, they may keep their inhaler in their pocket so they can use it on the pitch, or they can give it to their teacher/coach so they can ask for it whenever they need to. Some people find that exercise can provoke an asthma attack. These people may benefit from taking their reliever inhaler 15 minutes before exercise.
2. Informing the relevant people about your child’s asthma. For example, the adult supervising a sports game should know where your child’s medication is kept and should be looking out for signs that your child needs a break to catch their breath.
3. Taking breaks when needed. To begin with, your child may get very wheezy or breathless when they play sport. They should be encouraged to rest when needed and you should reassure them that everyone improves in their own time.
As well as the health benefits, playing sport can also teach your child to take responsibility for their asthma, including when to take their medication and when to take breaks. It is important that your child learns to listen to their body and can recognise the difference between being ‘puffed out’ during exercise and having an asthma flare-up.
It should be explained to your child that they may experience shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing during exercise, but this should resolve after they stop to catch their breath or after using their reliever inhaler. If symptoms persist and they find it hard to breathe, they are likely having an asthma flare-up and should follow their action plan while remaining calm.
Asthma doesn’t need to be a barrier to sporting success. In fact, many famous sportspeople have asthma and haven’t led it hold them back. World-renowned footballer, David Beckham, has asthma, as does Hurricanes winger Julian Savea. They have had successful sporting careers…maybe your child will too!