Swimming: good or bad for asthma?



It’s been freezing outside for days and the kids have eventually lost the enthusiasm for snow games. Now, what can we do in terms of exercise? The answer is swimming in indoor, heated swimming pools.

Aside from being a well-rounded physical exercise, swimming has been proven to be beneficial for those with asthma. An article in the journal Respirology reports that swimming is an effective non-pharmacological intervention against asthma for children.

The study by Taiwanese looked at school children aged 7 to 12 years old who were suffering from asthma. The study participants were split into 2 groups – one group received regular pharmacologic asthma treatments, the other underwent a six-week swimming program on top of their routine treatments.

The study results showed that

  • There were significant improvements in symptoms, hospitalizations, emergency room visits and school absenteeism the study participants.
  • There were also improvements in severity of asthma, mouth-breathing, snoring, chest deformity, self-confidence and general feelings of disadvantage among the participants.

According to lead author, Wang Jeng-Shing from the Taipei Medical University:

“Unlike other sports, swimming is unlikely to provoke asthma attacks. In addition to improving asthma, swimming promotes normal physical and psychological development, such as increasing lung volume, developing good breathing techniques and improving general fitness.”

“Not only is swimming an excellent form of exercise for children with asthma, the health benefits reaped continued to be observed for at least a year after the completion of the swimming program.”

However, swimming is not without its risks. Another study revealed that babies who start “swimming” before the age of 6 months are at an increased risk for developing asthma in childhood.

The Norwegian study looked at the data of about 30,000 participants of the Norwegian Mother and Child Study (MoBa) at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). The study revealed that:

  • 25% of children in the study started baby swimming between the age of 3 and 6 months.
  • There were differences observed with respect to lower respiratory tract infections, middle ear infection (otitis media) or tightness and wheezing in the chest between babies who went swimming at before the 6th month and those who did not.
  • A significant difference was found among children of mothers with asthma or allergies. 47% of these children who went swimming before the age of 6 months had tightness or wheezing in the chest compared to 44% who did not go swimming at such an early age.

I myself had enrolled my twin boys in a baby swimming program when they were aged 3 months. One of them developed wheezing a couple of months later. I do have a family history of asthma and allergies but I don’t know whether the swimming caused my child’s problem or not. However, my boys participated in a regular swimming course at age3.5 years and I definitely noticed and improvement in my wheezing son’s respiratory health. Again, I can’t be sure whether it’s swimming or other factors that caused the improvement.

So what is the link between swimming and wheezing?

Earlier studies indicated that there can be a link between baby swimming and airway infections in children. It has been suggested that indoor environmental factors (airway irritants) such as volatile chlorination products for indoor swimming pools can affect lung epithelium and contribute to the development of respiratory illnesses like asthma among children.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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