Asthma, an illness that affects the airways of the lungs, is one of the world’s most common chronic diseases. By 2014, it was reported that around 300 million people globally suffered from asthma, mostly in North America and Europe.
Its most frequent symptoms are wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. When triggered, an Asthma episode may occur a few times a day or a few times per week. Depending on the person, they may become worse at night or with exercise and are most common amongst children, especially boys.
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As there is no cure for it, symptoms can mostly be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants, and by the use of inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists provided in the form of metered-dose inhalers.
Fortunately, there are other effective ways to combat an Asthma attack. Nowadays, there is a prevailing opinion that physical activities can help to fight the illness – reducing and alleviating its symptoms. The activities usually suggested by physicians include swimming in warm water or exercises such as walking, yoga, or light cycling. That said, some doctors may opt to encourage their patients to take up martial arts as it has plenty of advantages to alleviate asthma compared to the practice of other sports. Through consistent training, people with asthma strengthen their neck and neck muscles, and it also has a positive effect on the breathing function. Moreover, there are a lot of flexibility and stretching exercises ingrained within the practice which can strengthen muscles that maintain respiratory functions.
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For example, there are plenty of yoga exercises found in martial arts that were introduced by Bodhidharma in Shaolin Kung Fu. Additionally, some martial arts disciplines require fast and explosive movements among which there are short, but very useful pauses that can be beneficial for Asthma patients. Last but not least, most martial arts styles emphasize a focus on special breathing techniques. Such techniques are performed in Kung Fu (Chi Kung, Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Qua etc.), Karate (for Katas-Sanchin,Yensho etc.), Taekwondo (forms), and many others. These breathing movements apply deep breathing that utilize the diaphragm and the chest and it’s best to perform them at the beginning of each practice. When applied correctly, these breathing techniques can also reduce muscle tensions, which help to maintain proper muscular distribution. Additionally, during a martial arts training session, the depth of breathing is increased while respiration is reduced, thus the lungs capacity is enlarged, and circulation and heart functions are improved.
Often times, martial arts sessions can be performed in the open air instead of indoors. This method of exercise in the fresh air is especially beneficial for those suffering from asthma who have an allergy to dust mites or dust. That said, exercising in nature is surely not recommended during certain season for patients with seasonal asthma.
Note that when doing any physical exercise, Asthma patients should always have medication at hand, and take it whenever necessary. They would also need to spend more time to warm up. Each movement should be performed more carefully and gradually. In this case, martial arts definitely have an advantage over other sports because warm-ups are longer and carried out more thoroughly. In addition to warm-ups, Asthma sufferers would also need to gradually cool the body in order to prevent attacks directly after physical exercise. Once the training session is concluded, it is advisable to take a shower with warm water, as it will facilitate the possible symptoms of the disease, and help with muscle relaxation.
Parents of children who suffer from Asthma would often wonder whether martial arts practice will bring more harm than good. They fear that the intensity of movements on some martial arts would lead them to be more susceptible to an Asthma attack. The truth is, as long as their coaches are informed about your child’s condition, you will be in good hands. Though most experienced martial arts instructors should have some knowledge about Asthma, it is crucial that patients – adults and children alike – not only inform coaches of their health condition but also properly inform them of the methods of providing assistance in the event of an attack. The good news is that martial arts trainers compared to sports instructors, are usually better informed on a variety of sport related injuries and medical conditions.
In general, martial arts coaches have seen and/or experienced a variety of injuries so they will likely be equipped to help your child if an Asthma attack occurs during a training session. A child with asthma attacks can start panicking, but you can be sure that a martial arts coach will keep calm, be mindful, focused and helpful. The coach's coolness will help the child to calm down, relax and start to breathe easier and more regularly. To be safe, be sure to attend as many of your child’s training sessions as possible so you can supervise and monitor how the coach reacts in the case of an attack. Your child should be assisted to sit, relax, and take his/her medication.
If your child suffers from Asthma, don't immediately conclude he or she would be afraid of competing. You’d be surprised that athletes who grew up as children with health conditions end up becoming quite successful. One of the reasons for this is that they tend to be very disciplined in their approach to training and this is a crucial trait to succeed in the practice of martial arts and sports alike.
All in all, the practice of martial arts can be quite beneficial for Asthma patients of all age. If you happen to suffer from Asthma, I encourage you to look into martial arts as a way to help effectively (and positively) combat your illness!
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