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Sports & Respiratory Health

  • Exercise for Healthy Lungs


    Any form of physical activity counts as exercise. Exercise could be in the form of vigorous sporting activities like running and tennis, or physical activities that make up part of daily life, like cleaning or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. During and after exercise, a number of biological effects occur to the body, and parts of the body slowly adapt to become more efficient. One such organ is the lungs, which is part of the body’s respiratory system. This section will explore the effects of exercise on the lungs, exercise-induced asthma, and the potential health problems caused by air pollution, like the haze, on the respiratory system.

    Effects of exercise on the respiratory system


    The lungs are made of spongy material that expand when breathing in air. This important organ is protected by the ribcage, and sits on a layer of muscle called the diaphragm that helps in breathing in and out. The lungs work to bring oxygen from the air we breathe into the blood, and to remove carbon dioxide and waste from the body.

    During exercise, the body uses more oxygen and produces more carbon dioxide due to the muscles working harder. To cope with this extra demand, the body responds by breathing deeper and more often to take in the oxygen needed. The increased breathing rate also allows for the delivery of oxygen into the blood stream, which is then transported to the working muscles.

  • Exercise-induced Asthma


    It is common to be short of breath during exercise. However, there are instances where airflow blockage occurs because of exercise, or during heavy physical exertion. This condition is called exercise-induced asthma, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

    Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma tend to begin soon after exercise, and may worsen when the activity is halted. Its warning signs include:

    – Coughing
    – Wheezing
    – Breathlessness
    – Chest tightness
    – Tiredness during exercise

    What causes exercise-induced asthma?

    People who are prone to exercise-induced asthma tend to be sensitive to both dry air and low temperatures. Air is warmed and humidified when breathing is done through the nose. However, during exercise, the increased demands of the body lead to faster and deeper breathing, and even breathing through the mouth. This results in dry, cold air reaching the lower airways and the lungs, which is usually the main trigger for airway narrowing (bronchoconstriction), leading to exercise-induced asthma. Other triggers include:

    – Air pollution
    – Exposure to irritants (eg. chemical fumes or smoke)


    Wheezing or tightness in the chest can be dangerous. If you experience the above symptoms and suspect that you may have exercise-induced asthma, you should consult your doctor. A medical evaluation can rule out other conditions like allergies and cardiac or respiratory disorders. To accurately diagnose the condition, you may be advised to undergo tests like running on a treadmill and spirometry (lung function testing).

    Should I avoid exercise if I am diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma?

    Having exercise-induced asthma does not mean that you should stop exercising. Instead, you should consider the following options that may help you prevent symptoms from occurring:

    – Take at least 10 minutes to perform a proper warm-up before strenuous exercise
    – Practise breathing through the nose, which helps to warm and humidify the air that enters the lungs
    – Avoid exercise when having a cold, flu or sinusitis


    Upon a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma, your doctor may develop a customised treatment plan for your lifestyle needs, and you may also be given medication like an asthma inhaler. Speak to your doctor to understand the treatment options available.

  • Effects of Haze on the Respiratory System


    Haze occurs regularly in the region and has become a major health concern for many. The haze is harmful for your respiratory system, and may cause breathing difficulties and respiratory irritation. To understand the risk that the haze poses to you, we must consider the type of pollutant in the air and its concentration, how long you are exposed to the polluted air and the state of your health.

    What is particulate matter (PM) and how does it affect health?

    The key factor to consider for air pollution is particulate matter (PM). This can come directly from the smoke of a fire, or form in the atmosphere from the reaction of gases like nitrogen oxide. The particulate matter in the haze is a mixture that may contain soot, nitrates, metal, sulphates, dust, tyre rubber and water.

    The size of the particulate matter is directly linked to health problems. Fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM2.5, pose the biggest problem as they may enter deep in the lungs and are difficult to remove or break down. PM1 particles may even pass the lungs and go straight into the bloodstream. In comparison, the width of an average strand of human hair is 100 microns.

    These fine particles may cause these health problems:

    – Decrease in lung function
    – Aggravation in the lungs which may lead to asthma attacks or acute bronchitis
    – Coughing or difficulty breathing
    – Heart attack or irregular heartbeat in people with underlying heart diseases
    – Development of chronic respiratory diseases in children, eg. asthma

    Symptoms to look out for:

    During the haze period, look out for the following signs:

    – Irritation of the nose, throat and eyes
    – Breathlessness
    – Coughing
    – Chest tightness

    Diagnosis and treatment

    Chest tightness or breathlessness may be a sign of a serious underlying condition. If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult with a respiratory physician to understand your condition. Your doctor will examine you and may prescribe medications like an asthma inhaler. Talk to your doctor to understand the treatment options available.

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