Do you take puffers in order to exercise?

Conventional thinking about asthma teaches you to live with it because it is not understood by most people that it is possible to rid yourself of it by changing your breathing pattern. In order to live with asthma and have a near-normal life, most people use reliever medication to mask the symptoms.

This means that you might take a spray of your inhaler before you play sport or go to a cat show for instance, and you use your steroid inhalers if you take more than 3 or 4 puffs of your reliever in a week. If you are not so good at remembering to take your steroids, and because it is not safe to take lots of bronchodilator without the steroid, your doctor might have prescribed you a combination drug like Seretide or Symbicort, which means so that you cannot take a bronchodilator without also taking a steroid.

It also means that if you take this medication twice a day, you are artificially opening up your airways all day and all night, whether you need it or not. Would you take aspirin day and night to ward off a headache, even when you don't have one? Most people wouldn't do that, yet they happily take their long-acting bronchodilators because they think that it's safe to do to.

Other options you might take to control your symptoms are to avoid certain foods and to regularly vacuum your mattress or stalk around your home with a damp cloth in hand, collecting dust as if it were poison, instead of a normal part of life.

Far more extreme measures have been taken by those with severe asthma – we moved suburbs to improve our breathing, but we have met some people who have moved countries in order to reduce asthma symptoms.

Another crucial part of good asthma control is to stay as fit as possible. This is a good idea because the less fit you are, the harder you have to breathe to do almost everything. But when you take the Buteyko approach to fitness you only do what you can manage reasonably easily, and then increase the level of difficulty as your fitness improves. This means that you don't take your inhaler before you start the exercise, but instead keep it in your pocket, pace yourself so that you don't get too short of breath, and use the inhaler when you actually need it, rather than when you think you will need it.

We see this approach to sport when people are injured. Few people take a pain killer and keep on playing with a wonky knee. Instead most people who have an inflamed knee will take it easy until the knee starts to heal a bit and perhaps taking some anti-inflammatory medication to help it along. Then when the knee is healing well, gentle exercise is started. When you are ready to get back into the sport, you only play for as long as it feels comfortable. As the knee gets stronger, you play for longer, or put more effort into it, until you are back to your usual pace.

Asthma is a condition that involves inflamed airways, not inflamed knees, but you should probably treat the inflammation in the same kind of way: rest up for a while, take anti-inflammatory medication, do some gentle exercises until the damage is healed, then start back into the game playing for as long as you feel comfortable. This way you can exercise easily and get more enjoyment out of your sport.

If you start hard into exercise without doing this type of recovery, your body is already compromised and so you are more likely to breathe in lots of cold air via the mouth, which is only going to make the airway inflammation worse. Also, in order to exercise hard when you are not well involves taking more asthma medication that masks the problem and increases your breathing rate as well, so it is unlikely to improve your underlying problem.

Be smart: use your inhaler when you need it, rather than before you do. If you aren't well enough to exercise without your inhaler, the chances are that you aren't well enough to exercise!

Also remember to breathe properly and exercise in a sensible way - think about what you are doing rather than just trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. You will enjoy it more and so will be more likely to continue doing it regularly.