Friday, May 6, 2011

Breathing Age

I have asthma. During my adolescence I had strange and sometimes painful symptoms . My mom, bless her heart, was not always the most compassionate of women. I would say "It hurts to breathe" and she would say "then don't breathe." Please don't take this as whining, it's just how she was. I do love my dear mother greatly, and I am a tough cookie today because of her for many reasons. I was finally diagnosed as an adult when I eventually cracked a rib from all the coughing.

Once I was diagnosed and I had an emergency inhaler, my quality o
f life improved marginally and I was careful to avoid second hand smoke and situations that might put me at risk for an attack. This was the case for many years until I decided to begin martial arts training. Martial arts forms and self defenses are largely anaerobic exercise. Sparring and wrestling are somewhat more aerobic, but still do not exercise your lungs the way that the triathlon events do. Even so, my breathing was challenged and I experienced improvement. Wheezing was reduced to a minimum in my day to day life and I felt good about the exercise that I was getting. Oh, and that picture to the left? I eventually lost that match, but earned my second degree black belt that day. So I was pretty happy nonetheless!

I moved on from martial arts to triathlons and got serious about swimming and biking. I was not able to run at that time due to injuries so I participated in relay events. I spent a lot of time in the pool huffing and puffing my way from one end to the other hoping to get faster. I was about ready to give up because my breathing was so bad. I even had resorted to bringing my inhaler poolside. Instead, I got encouragement from the swim coach at the pool who told me that she knew of other swimmers with asthma and that I just needed to push through it. At times, asthma makes you feel like you are breathing underwater; how was I ever going to be able to master this?

I discussed this with my doctor who gave me a new prescription that was a daily mainten
ance medication instead of an emergency medication. Within weeks of starting the medication I began to feel a difference and I felt confident that I could push through the swimming. And I did! But what about biking? I experienced a very similar journey with the bike. I just had to hang in there and push through it to expand my lung capacity. I used to carry my emergency inhaler on my bike with me and use it before and/or after a big hill. I still huff and puff on hills and cannot talk to anyone until I reach the top, but I have made significant progress.

Once I was finally able to start running in 2009, I assumed the breathing journey would be the same. I have to say that I am not
there yet with running. I cannot chat easily with my running partners, and I cannot sing along with my iPod while running - much to the relief of those around me! But I am working at it and I am getting a bit better and running a bit faster. For all of the 2009 season I ran with my emergency inhaler in hand. The inhaler can be seen in all the pictures of me crossing the finish line at my triathlons that year. Those pictures are a reminder of how far I have come. In fact, I no longer even carry an emergency inhaler in my purse or on my person. I cannot remember the last time I had an asthma attack.

In 2010 at my annual physical my doctor tested my breathing and I was still "below expected capacity." I am not one to accept that lying down. I was determined to do all that I could to increase my lung capacity. I am thrilled to report that one year later my breathing age is now the same as my chronological age as a result of my maintenance medications and my exercise! I am at 100% expected capacity.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, talk to your doctor and review your options for medication and exercise. And don't ever, ever give up!

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