Life was active and healthy in early 2005 for Terri Lange, then 54. A successful massage therapist in Atlanta, she was practicing yoga, calisthenics and strength training to keep off the 60 pounds that had crept on her body in her 40s during the beginning stages of menopause.
Lange’s health deteriorated in the summer of that year, however. A sinus infection quickly evolved into bronchitis, then into pneumonia and a diagnosis of residual asthma. The lung inflammation lingered, and a year later, she was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthmacoughing or shortness of breath that gets worse with activity.
Day-to-day tasks became a challenge as she labored to breathe. She couldn’t walk up or down stairs without stopping to catch her breath and avoided putting the top down on her convertible for fear that the air pollution would make her wheeze.
Lange’s exercise routine dropped off, too. “I worked as an allergy nurse for many years so I was very familiar with asthma,” says Lange, who is also a registered nurse. “The asthma left me wheezing, short of breath and fatigued. It became more of a struggle to work out.”
Luckily, as Lange learned, a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma doesn’t require cutting out exercise altogetherif you take precautions.
“I recommend that patients use an inhaler about 15 minutes prior to exercising,” says Dr. Anthony Petracca, of Glens Falls, N.Y. It’s also a good idea to warm up and cool down for about 15 minutes before and after your workout. And opt for low-intensity activities such as walking, yoga and swimming. (The warm, humid conditions in most pools are lung-friendly.)
Lange can attest to the benefits of such precautions. A few years after decreasing the intensity of her workouts, her lungs are stronger and she has stopped taking medication for her exercise-induced asthma.
“It was a challenge to find the right amount of exercise that would strengthen me but not wear me out. Yoga, plus the deep belly-breathing I do each day, have been critical in helping me build my lung capacity,” says Lange, who also does 20-minute workouts on the elliptical machine and lifts free weights three days a week.
Lange keeps a positive outlook about her residual asthma, although she still takes medication to manage it. “Asthma can be a challenge, but I don’t see it as a disease,” she says.
Instead, she tries to control her environment as much as possibleshunning scented candles or harsh household chemicals, avoiding cats, using an air purifier in her bedroom, and eliminating dairy and gluten from her diet.
“When I don’t eat inflammatory foods, my body feels stronger,” she explains. “Nutrition is a powerful aid to controlling my asthma. I eat several servings a day of fruits and vegetables and make my own veggie juice drink for an afternoon snack. I keep well hydrated with water.
“I want people with asthma to know there are many tools for a better life, from nutrition and exercise to getting quality sleep. There are so many ways to help yourself.”