Give yourself a break — or two. Dr. Firshein advises everyone with asthma to engage in regular moderate exercise. “It strengthens the lungs, which helps prevent asthma symptoms,” he explains. He prefers what he calls pulsed exercise-brief workouts with rest periods in between. The breaks help prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks. Dr. Firshein’s exercise of choice is tennis, but he also swims and takes aerobics classes.
Be the early bird. The concentration of air pollutants tends to rise from morning to early evening, then falls at night. So if you exercise outdoors, try to schedule your workouts for the A.M. Choose routes far away from traffic and automobile exhaust. If that isn’t possible, consider joining a health club, so you can exercise indoors.
Bend to break away from symptoms. The combination of deep, rhythmic breathing and slow, gentle stretching makes yoga an ideal activity for people with asthma. Indeed, many studies have proven yoga to be an effective asthma therapy.
In one such study involving 106 adults with asthma, half of the participants received standard treatment, while the rest received 2 weeks of yoga training. Afterward, they were encouraged to continue practicing on their own. Four years later, the people who had engaged in regular yoga sessions reported improved lung function, fewer asthma attacks, and milder symptoms than the people who hadn’t learned yoga. They had also reduced their reliance on asthma medications.
Envision your airways opening. “Visualization is a powerful asthma therapy,” affirms psychologist David Bresler, Ph.D., L.Ac., associate clinical professor of anesthesiology and licensed acupuncturist at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine. “It can help many people, especially children, reduce or eliminate their need for asthma drugs.”
If you want to use visualization as part of your asthma-management program, Gerald N. Epstein, M.D., director of the Academy of Integrative Medicine and Mental Imagery in New York City, suggests practicing the following exercise: Close your eyes. Take three slow, deep breaths. Envision yourself in a pine forest. Stand next to a pine tree and inhale its aromatic fragrance. As you exhale, sense your breath traveling down through your body and exiting through the soles of your feet. See your breath as gray smoke that becomes buried deep in the earth. Open your eyes.
Get to the points. “In Chinese medicine, asthma represents the stagnation of qi, or life energy, in the lungs,” says Efrem Korngold, O.M.D., L.Ac. “Treatment involves dispersing qi to eliminate stagnation.” One way to do this is with acupuncture. In fact, acupuncture works so well as an asthma therapy that even the United Nations World Health Organization recommends it.
During a treatment session, an acupuncturist inserts needles at several specific locations around the body. If you prefer, you can try stimulating these points yourself with acupressure. Simply apply steady, penetrating finger pressure to each of the following points for 3 minutes.
Lung 7, located on the thumb side of your inner forearm, two thumb-widths from the wrist crease
Pericardium 6, located on the midline of your inner arm, two thumb-widths above the wrist crease
Stomach 36, located four finger-widths below your kneecap and one fingerwidth toward the outside of your shinbone
Liver 3, situated on top of your foot in the webbing between your big toe and second toe