Avoiding exercise induced asthma using the Buteyko DVD
In my experience, all asthmatics partaking in regular physical exercise have better control of their condition than those who donâ€™t. This section is about exercising safely and getting the maximum benefits from it.
The importance of exercise
There are only two ways to increase CO2 in the human organism. The first is to reduce breathing volume, and the second is to produce more CO2 by doing physical exercise. Nowadays most asthmatics do the opposite; they breathe heavy and because of their fear of having an asthma attack, they do little or no exercise.
CO2 is generated through inner respiration from the process of converting food and Oxygen into energy. An exercising muscle generates more CO2 thus encouraging the release of Oxygen from haemoglobin to that muscle. (Remember, the presence of CO2 loosens the bond between Oxygen and haemoglobin within red blood cells).
A low BUTEYKO CP corresponds with a greater breathing volume and a higher risk of an asthma attack from physical exercise. As a result, never mouth breathe if the BUTEYKO CP is less than 20 seconds. (You can have your mouth open during sports for short periods of time when the BUTEYKO CP is greater than 20 seconds.)
All breathing should be through the nose. Initially, this might feel impossible due to the ingrained habit of mouth breathing.
But donâ€™t worry as it is easy to master. At the beginning you might find that you are not able to walk as fast as you can with your mouth open as the feeling of breathlessness will be greater. In a few days, this will pass and your walking will steadily improve. Itâ€™s a case of quality over quantity.
Your breathing volume will increase during exercise. This is not a problem when there is a reasonable match with your metabolic requirements. However, the lower your BUTEYKO CP, the poorer the match.
I often see patients with severe asthma or COPD. On the day of their first visit, they can be very breathless by the time they walk the few paces from the car park to my clinic. This is an example of a complete mismatch as their breathing volume is very large but their physical movements are minimal. After 10 minutes, their breathing calms down and I measure their BUTEYKO CP. It is usually about 5 or 6 seconds, indicating severe overbreathing.
- If your BUTEYKO CP is less than 20 seconds- nasal breathe only
- If your BUTEYKO CP is greater than 20 seconds â€“ you can mouth breathe during exercise for a short period
Greatest risk of asthma attack:
The greatest risk for having asthma symptoms occur 5 minutes after commencing exercise and 10 minutes after completion. Remember; you will have an asthma attack if your breathing volume is greater than your bodily requirements.
To avoid an attack at the start of exercise:
If your breathing volume increases faster than your metabolic production of CO2, your airways will constrict and an attack will take place. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to be able to control your breathing for the first ten minutes of exercise and the only way to do this is by a gentle warm up.
A good warm up consists of walking or gentle movements with breath holds. After ten minutes, your lungs will feel freer and you will be able to increase your pace with substantially less likelihood of symptoms. Regardless of how high your BUTEYKO CP is, always go gently for the first ten minutes.
To avoid an attack at end of exercise:
Asthmatics continue to overbreathe after they have completed physical exercise. After cessation of exercise, ensure that you get your breathing under control. Use your mind and make a conscious effort to calm your breathing. If you find that your breathing is quite out of control, practice many small breath holds as described in Exercise 6.
Feel the need for air:
To get the most benefits from physical activity, feel a need for air or, in other words; feel breathless.
When your BUTEYKO CP is low, it is very easy to disrupt breathing so be careful; go gently and donâ€™t push yourself beyond the point that you cannot control your breathing. At the same time, try to feel a tolerable need for air.
There are three ways to create your need for air with exercise.
- Go faster with your mouth closed
- Breathe less during exercise
- Practice breath holds as described in EXERCISE 4
If your need for air is too much, so that you need to open your mouth, slow down and calm your breathing. By keeping your mouth closed, you will recover faster. If youâ€™re walking for exercise, it is better to walk alone or to have an agreement with your walking partner not to talk. Talking will only undo the benefits.
How to determine if you are breathing correctly during physical exercise:
- Measure your BUTEYKO CP before exercise
- Perform physical exercise
- Measure your BUTEYKO CP 15 â€“ 30 minutes after you have completed
Your BUTEYKO CP measurement 15 minutes after exercise should be greater than your BUTEYKO CP measurement before exercise.
There are two points to bear in mind:
- If your BUTEYKO CP is measured immediately after exercise, it will probably be lower than your starting BUTEYKO CP due to the build up of an air shortage.
- If 15 minutes after exercise your BUTEYKO CP is still lower than your starting BUTEYKO CP, you were breathing excessively during exercise.
Swimming or any other activity?
Swimming has always been recognized to be beneficial for asthma. During swimming, the arms and legs are moving thus generating greater amounts of CO2. At the same time, breathing is restricted because your face is under water most of the time. This increases CO2 levels and dilates your airways. (Be very careful of chlorinated pools as they can trigger asthma)
But you donâ€™t necessarily have to swim. Now that you are aware of the concept of overbreathing, you can incorporate the principles of swimming by breathing less into any activity that you like.
BUTEYKO CP and Sports
Try to imagine a person with a very low breath hold of 5 seconds. Their breathing is going to be extremely heavy even during very gentle walking. On the other hand imagine a person with a BUTEYKO CP of 40 seconds.
If you were to line up a sports team and measure each of their BUTEYKO CPs, those with the lower BUTEYKO CPs get breathless, tire more easily, produce more lactic acid and oftentimes do not have the stamina of those with a higher BUTEYKO CP. The higher the BUTEYKO CP, the less air required to run a specific distance at a given pace. With each proportionate increase of the BUTEYKO CP, physical performance will improve.
If you are a coach reading this, introduce the BUTEYKO CP as a simple way to measure the performance of individual players. To increase performance, increase their BUTEYKO CP.
- The higher your BUTEYKO CP, the greater your efficiency during sports
- The lower your BUTEYKO CP, the poorer your efficiency during sports
A summary of points regarding physical exercise
- It is absolutely essential that asthmatics do physical exercise.
- Exercise within your capabilities.
- Never breathe through your mouth during exercise if your BUTEYKO CP is less than 20 seconds.
- The lower your BUTEYKO CP, the more careful you should be while performing physical exercise.
- Feel the need for air during physical exercise.
- Thirty minutes to 1 hour of physical exercise per day is a wonderful aid to increase your BUTEYKO CP.
- Make sure to go gently with your mouth closed for the first 10 minutes.
- Make sure to calm your breathing immediately following exercise.
- Walk, donâ€™t talk.