There’s a misconception that endurance sports like swimming, running and biking aggravate the symptoms of asthma. This belief holds no scientific merit—in fact, the opposite may be true. Regular fitness and conditioning can improve lung function and develop better breathing habits.
The National Asthma Council Australia states that one form of exercise over another does not provide more asthmatic relief. That said, swimming does offer one unique benefit. Research suggests that swimming causes less bronchoconstriction compared to other sports. Bronchoconstriction occurs when the muscles around the lung’s airways tighten, prompting fits of coughing or wheezing.
There are many reasons why swimming might induce less bronchoconstriction than other activities. For one, the high humidity of the pool room prevents excessive respiratory heat and mucus loss. While there is only preliminary evidence in support of this, swimming has been recommended for asthma for decades.
Asthma is Common Amongst Olympian Swimmers
If you think that asthma might hold you back in the pool, consider that a quarter of competitive swimmers suffer from the condition. Peter Vanderkaay, who placed third in 2008 against Phelps in the 4×200 freestyle, lives with asthma and has found that it does not impede his training. The key is to stay hydrated and exercise in humidified environments whenever possible.
There is a correlation between asthma and chlorine; however, this only affects competitive swimmers who spend their lives in the pool. Overexposure to the chemical produces changes in airway hyper responsiveness—how easily and tightly the airways constrict. Recreational swimmers or even those who join clubs, classes and meets need not worry about it.