In late January of 2020, data suggested that COVID-19 was primarily a respiratory infection and those with asthma were at a higher risk for severe illness. Health care workers were told to look out for three primary conditions: high fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
As a person who has had asthma since childhood, the early news of COVID-19 got my attention immediately.
However, scientists and health care providers have learned a lot over the past several months. It is now known that COVID-19 affects people in different ways with a wider variety of symptoms than thought previously. It appears that asthma may not boost risk of severe illness at all. However, with the rapidly changing landscape of information and best practices, it’s prudent to take extra precautions. Here’s a few things that I’m doing to manage.
Exercise: Your Best Pulmonary Practice
Exercise is one of the most effective tools to manage any asthmatic condition. Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to build lung capacity and improve respiratory health. It has also been shown to decrease inflammation over longer periods of time by reducing inflammatory proteins which can cause vasoconstriction of the airways.
The moderate to high-intensity of kung fu forms training has been a core element of how I’ve maintained lung capacity over the years. Even tai chi, a mild to moderate cardiovascular exercise, has been shown to improve respiratory function in people of all ages.
Exercise is also one of the most effective ways of building immune function. There are countless studies which show that exercise stimulates the production of antibodies and white blood cells, which decrease the likelihood of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
When it comes to exercise, consistency is key. I generally workout five to six days a week and alter my training days between kung fu and tai chi. I’ve found that the high-intensity kung fu workouts are balanced nicely with the slow steady-state cardio of tai chi. On either day, I aim for 45-60 minutes of cardiovascular training.
Regardless of the amount or intensity, exercise should play an important role in the long term strategy to manage asthma.
Control Your Condition with Better Nutrition
It’s no secret that a well balanced diet that has a lot of fruits and vegetables keeps the body and mind strong and healthy. This can be especially true for asthmatics and others who have chronic illness. Nutrition is often a neglected aspect of managing an asthmatic condition, but it should be a core part of your master plan.
Vegetables are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants which help to eliminate free radicals, which can cause inflammation. A 2017 review of over 80 studies found that a high intake of vegetables and fruits was correlated with lower asthma risk and a reduction in asthmatic attacks.
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is also linked to better asthma control. Research has found that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and can be highly beneficial to asthmatics and others with chronic inflammation. Omega-3s are found in fatty wild caught fish like salmon, sardines, and cod. They are also found in larger amounts in pasture raised grass fed beef. For plant alternatives, avocados, olive oil, and walnuts are great sources of omega-3s.
Perhaps the most important dietary concern for asthmatics is excess sugar consumption. A sugar rich diet has been linked to elevated levels of inflammation and is a known asthma trigger. The Western diet, which is high in processed foods and refined sugar, is one of the primary culprits. Asthmatics should be mindful about the standard American diet (SAD for short), not only because of high levels of sugar, but also because it typically is low in omega-3 fats.
Over the past twelve months, one of the positive changes for me has been a renewed focus on food preparation and healthy eating. These days, I find myself cooking at home more often, which allows me to make better choices. My diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, on occasion some naturally raised meats or wild caught fish, and low amounts of refined sugar.
Exercise and nutrition won’t replace the need for doctor prescribed medications. However, they certainly can lessen your dependence. Regardless if you have asthma or not, regular exercise and a healthy diet are just simply good for your overall health.
In Part 2, we’ll explore how sun exposure, lowering stress, and connecting with others are effective strategies to manage asthma.