ASTHMA and Swimming

What Masters Swimmers Need to Know

Are you coughing during workouts, wheezing at night, have bronchitis often? You are in your 40s, or 50s, and think ASTHMA only affects the young. WRONG! Twenty to thirty percent of Masters swimmers have Asthma! Many swimmers do not realize or they deny having Asthma.

Last year I did research on heart rate monitors and in conjunction with my research I took a VO2 Max. test. One of the many tests indicated my lung capacity at 4.87 liters. This was 130% of a normal male my age. I also had several bouts with bronchitis, taking antibiotics for ten days each time. I was coughing during workouts, but I reasoned it was just the L.A. Smog. It could not be asthma because I was over 40 and asthma is for kids. In January I raced a 1650 freestyle using my heart rate monitor. The monitor indicated I was anaerobic the whole way. It couldn't be asthma.

Then came a fortunate event. I failed a physical at work, failing the lung capacity test with only 79% of the normal male my age. I now had just 3.7 liters lung capacity! Where did the 1.1 liters go? Not to asthma, I told myself. Armed with the VO2 Max. test results and my latest physical results I visited my doctor. I left with a diagnosis of ASTHMA and prescriptions for three inhalers. I blew into a tube every day (peak flow meter), charted the results, and took my inhalers as prescribed. After about three weeks my peak flow values were in the normal range, but I still had poor swim practices. After five weeks I finally started going above normal on the peak flow chart and my times in swim meets dropped dramatically. It is wonderful to swim and get enough air.

No more blaming the smog, I accept I have asthma and need to continuously treat it. I wheeze at night and cough during workouts, but I am swimming fast. Please check to see if you have any of the following symptoms.

Asthmatic Signs:

  • 1. Wheezes.
  • 2. Coughs.
  • 3. Tight feeling in chest.
  • 4. Shortness of breath.
  • 5. Fatigue.
  • 6. Numerous colds.
  • 7. Sighs.
  • 8. Stomach cramps.
  • 9. Headaches.
  • 10. Consistent allergy problems.

    If you have any of these symptoms, check with your doctor. Asthma is easily controlled if you know how. I recommend reading an excellent book by Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead, Asthma and Exercise (Henry Holt, 1990), and her article in Swim magazine September 1993. Don't let Asthma stop you from enjoying life!

    by Wayne McCauley

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