Brought to you by Slimming & Health
Think your health condition rules out regular exercise? Think again. Working up a sweat can actually make you feel better, as Laura Greaves discovered
If your back aches constantly, your joints are stiff and sore or you start each day with two puffs from a steroid inhaler, you could be forgiven for ranking exercise alongside cleaning the oven on your list of enjoyable activities.
But a plethora of research shows that physical activity can reduce pain and improve mobility for people with chronic conditions like asthma, arthritis and low back pain. So while it may seem that exercising is beyond your reach, working up a sweat may actually make a real difference to your quality of life. But the type of exercise you choose matters. Read on to find your perfect wellness workout.
One in six Australian children and one in nine adults has asthma. Asthmatics have sensitive airways in their lungs - the airways narrow when they're exposed to certain triggers, which makes breathing difficult.
There are two main factors that cause airways to narrow - either the inside lining of the airway becomes inflamed and excessive mucus is produced, or the muscles around the airways tighten.
Experts aren't entirely sure what causes asthma, however it is known that a family history of asthma, eczema or hayfever makes people more likely to develop the condition. Exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy and early childhood also significantly increases the risk of children developing the disease.
Common asthma triggers include air pollution, dust mites, exercise, pets, smoking and the weather. For severe asthmatics, more than one of these could trigger an asthma attack.
When we're huffing and puffing through a workout, we breathe through our mouths and push cold, dry air into our lungs. Cold air is a common asthma trigger, so exercise can seem a scary prospect for many asthmatics.
The good news is getting fit can improve asthma because, over time, the airways effectively become more tolerant of exercise.
'Swimming is considered the perfect exercise for asthmatics for many reasons,' says Greg Smith, CEO of the Asthma Foundation NSW. 'In a pool you're breathing warm, moist air, and even children can do it. Any form of exercise is great but we find that swimming can be most beneficial.'
If swimming doesn't appeal and you opt for another activity, consider wearing a surgical-style mask or a top that can cover your mouth, especially if you're exercising outside in a cool, dry climate.
Asthmatics should always carry their reliever medication when they exercise and may find that using it 10-15 minutes before working out - as well as doing warm-up exercises like stretches and short sprints - helps keep their breathing in check. But it's vital that people with asthma have the condition well controlled before embarking on a fitness regime. 'You really have to have the asthma regularly reviewed by your GP and have your asthma action plan regularly updated,' Greg says. 'It's also good to tell someone you're asthmatic so if you get into strife they'll know what's going on and be better able to help you.'
For more information, contact your state Asthma Foundation, visit www.asthmansw.org.au or call 1800 645 130.
A shocking 85% of Australians suffer from back pain - and if you're overweight or obese, you're more likely to endure an aching back. US research suggests musculoskeletal pain - and specifically back pain - is prevalent among nearly a third of obese people.
Overweight people are more likely to suffer because carrying extra kilos can cause the spine to be tilted and stressed unevenly. Low back pain is particularly common because excess weight around the middle can pull the pelvis forward and cause pain.
Exercise can benefit back pain by blocking pain signals to the brain, says Simon Floreani, of the Chiropractors Association of Australia. 'Pain signals go from the source of the pain up through the spinal cord to the brain. If you get other signals going into your body it covers those pain messages. The endorphins you get from exercise give you pain relief,' he explains.
Exercises that focus on core stability, such as Pilates, can also help by strengthening the back.
As with arthritis, Tai Chi can help back pain by lengthening the spine and improving posture and function. 'Tai Chi principles like weight shifting can improve people's ability to do physical activities,' says Amanda Hall, a PhD student investigating the effects of Tai Chi on back pain in a study for Sydney's George Institute for International Health.
She leads back pain sufferers through 10-week Tai Chi programs and says the effects on their pain are significant. 'It's an exercise that's enjoyable to people and they want to continue to do it after they've finished the program,' she says.
But, Simon says, before beginning any form of exercise it's important to rule out more 'sinister' causes of back pain. 'You need to know whether it's run of the mill back pain or not. We classify something mechanical as low back pain but it could be something deeper like a fracture or problems with blood supply or organs,' he says. For more information, visit www.straightenupaustralia.com.au
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