Can I increase my lung's stamina?

I’ve had asthma since I was a kid, and I get out of breath fairly easily. I’m not overweight (skinny, if anything), and I’m in decent shape in general, but I just can’t do too much running or biking without getting winded. Even biking up the rather steep hill on the way home from work, my lungs give out before my legs do. So, I’m wondering, is it possible to at least increase how long I can exercise before my asthma kicks in?

Sounds more like a medical question than an exercise question.

For general cardio-vascular fitness, the best way to improve is to do cardio-vascular training. The more you do, the better you get, and the easier you will find it to run or cycle without getting puffed.

But something like asthma complicates things a bit, because it sounds like the asthma itself is preventing you from pushing yourself enough to improve your level of fitness. And you need to be careful because you don’t want to give yourself a really bad asthma attack by pushing yourself too hard. Also, asthma manifests itself differently in different people, and something that might work for a different asthma sufferer might not work for you.

I’d ask your doctor if there’s anything s/he recommends, and if there are specific precautions you need to take.

So, asthma aside - and just because I’m curious - is there any difference to how you go about cardiovascular training? I’m only vaguely familiar with physical training in general, but I know there are differences between pushing yourself as hard as you can, but less frequently, and doing a more regular, but less intense kind of workout. Does that hold true, here, too?

Kinda sorta.

As a broad generalisation, the aim of cardiovascular training is to increase the “fitness” of the whole system, not just a single muscle. So you want to develop larger and stronger muscle in the heart with increased vascularisation, changes in the type of fibre within the muscles you are working, a more efficient diaphragm contraction, more red blood cells and so forth. Those things are mostly controlled by hormonal change outside the organs themselves. Basically the body notices that it’s struggling to get enough oxygen and it makes the appropriate changes rectify the problem.

The best way to do that, at least initially, is to put the system under mild stress for a prolonged period on a regular basis. So an aerobic workout for half an hour every other day will be lot more effective than 10 minutes of anaerobic.

To keep it simple, what you really need to do is use your heart rate as an indicator that your body is struggling. Get your heart rate up well above resting and keep it there for at least half an hour. A breif intense workout just won’t have the same effect.

As for your original question, the best response is to see a doctor. There are plenty of methods that will enable you to suppress your asthma to some degree. Swimming is one of the better ones.

Also be aware that many asthmatics have been living with the condition so long that they blame *any *shortness of breath on asthma. In many cases, such as yours, it probably isn’t. You’re very likely suffering from very mild asthma, with the vast majority of the shortness of breath caused by good, old fashioned “being out of shape”. Non asthmatics feel exactly the same shortness of breath in the same situation.

But once again, go see a doctor.

Yes you can, at least in my case I did.

My asthma, which came on to me late in life when I was 27, was horrible. There were times a big wide street, like Michigan Avenue in Chicago was a challange to me, 'cause I didn’t know if I had enough breath in me to cross it.

I started exercising. I went very slow, starting with the bike. It was bad and very hard. It took me two years before I was able to run a full hour on a treadmill. But my asthma got 99% better.

I went from using 3 inhalers a month to virtually none. My last inhaler is almost two years old now, and I haven’t used it up.

You have to remember when you have a bad asthma attack how the doctors/medics pull you out of it is by giving you Epinephrine (also referred to as Adrenaline). When you run your body makes it naturally.

You have to be careful when you start, and make sure you use your rescue inhaler BEFORE you start to work out. I would start with a bike that is easy to stop and sit and recatch your breath. The absolute last should be a stair climber. Your thigh muscles are among the biggest on your body and use the most oxygen so you should leave that machine to last.

And it wil take LOTS of time. LOTS. Like I said, it too me 2 years to work up to an hour. But I did it.

Well, cardiovascular fitness requires aerobic exercise. This is generally a type of exercise that it done for extended periods of time, at moderate levels of exertion. For me, it’s usually running, but it could also be things like cycling, swimming, aerobics, skipping rope, etc.

Remember, asthma or not, most people starting an aerobic exercise program have exactly the same problems as you: they can only do so much before they get winded. The idea of a cardio exercise program is to gradually increase the amount of exercise you can do before this happens, and the best way to do this is to build up your routine gently.

I run about 4 miles a day, about 5-6 days a week. When i started my program about a year ago, i was overweight and not very fit. The first couple of weeks, it took me over 40 minutes to get around the course, and involved slow jogging interspersed with occasional bouts of walking. Over time, i got to a stage where i never took any walking breaks, and then gradually began to increase my speed. Now i can do my 4-mile course comfortably in 31-32 minutes.

One program that i know a lot of people use is the Couch to 5k running plan, which will have you running 5km (just over 3 miles) in a couple of months. It’s a very gradual program, and one reason i never bothered with it is that i prefer to push myself a little harder and have a faster improvement curve. But it’s an excellent program.

Just listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to walk or slow down if things get too tough. For me, one of the things i like to do is always do the full distance. If i set out to go 4 miles, then i will make sure i go 4 miles, even if it means walking part of the way. When you’re not very fit, even walking with help out your cardiovascular fitness.

But i don’t know anything about asthma, so i would reiterate that it would be best to talk to a doctor before you start any exercise program. Also, while running has never given me any problems, some people find that it’s tough on knees and ankles, and so prefer low- or zero-impact exercises like cycling or swimming.

One thing I did when I would remember is to take some almost full capacity deep breathes. I know I tended to take shallow breaths so spending a few minutes taking deep breathes feels good besides stretching the lungs. Trying to get that last bit so you cough is not what I mean.

No, being winded from exercising and not being able to breathe because of asthma are different. And asthma affects people in different ways. On my worst days I will walk from one room to another and suddenly I have to take many short shallow breaths to get air. I have to sit down. I can’t seem to exhale completely.

(Yes, I seeing a doctor for it since it is getting worse.)

I am glad to know that it can be made better for some with exercise. That sounds hopeful!

You could look into Buteyko - a breathing technique for asthmatics that has some (qualified) support in trials. I think that it takes lots of work, and could well be expensive. However, the combination of Buteyko and carefully managed aerobic exercise could well help.

My niece (a national level junior athlete in NZ) had issues with exercise induced asthma for a while, and I am sure that she used this to overcome/minimise it.


Talk to your doc first, to see what s/he recommends.

You might try yoga. Breathing is an integral part of the exercise.

It seemed to improve my breathing quite a bit. (Mild asthma, smoker, out of shape.)

Talk to your doc. Have your doctor make (or update) your Asthma Control Plan. This should include both rescue treatments (usually albuterol) and maintenance treatments (like flovent, advair, accolate, or others). Know your plan for what to do for exacerbations. Let your doc know you want to exercise, so perhaps a prophylactic pre-exercise medication may be employed.

Thenbased on your doc’s advice, start on a basic exercise program, such as one simply based on walking, or riding a bike.

QtM, who sees a hell of a lot of asthma patients and tunes them up.