(WJBK) - Exercising isn't always easy for kids with asthma. Fearing an asthma attack, many of the 6 million children with asthma in the U.S. and their parents tend to shy away from too much exercise.
Experts say, though, one activity in particular not only helps them get fit -- but can also improve their symptoms. That's swimming.
Besides the humid air at the pool, experts say swimming also helps kids control breathing because they are forced to take long, deep breaths before going underwater. Starting an exercise routine with swimming can help kids with asthma.
Eleven-year-old Kristian Jackson, for example, has severe asthma, so exercise hasn't always been easy. In fact, at times, it's even led to serious attacks.
"When it starts to flare up, like my shoulders go up. It feels tight, like everything's kind of blacking out because it feels like I’m going to faint or something," he says.
Kristian relies on daily medication to control his asthma, and in the past he struggled to find ways to safely stay active. But then he was introduced to the pool.
"If you want a specific recommendation as to an activity that won't trigger an asthma attack, swimming tends to be a great one," says Dr. Todd Olin of National Jewish Health.
But for Kristian, swimming isn't just a pastime -- it's part of his school curriculum. Kristian goes to Morgridge Academy on the campus of National Jewish Health in Denver. It's a school specifically for children with chronic illnesses who need daily medical treatment. They see swimming as more than exercise.
"When you get them into that pool with that warm air and teach them how to regulate their breathing, they can do a lot more with physical activity than they would be able to do otherwise," says Jennifer McCullough, Director of Education at Morgridge Academy.
Dr. Olin says the key is the humid air in the indoor pool, which keeps airways open. Swimming is something for all parents to consider if they have children with asthma, because exercising outdoors, especially in the cold, can cause problems.
"The airways dry out a little bit and then that sets off a cascade of reactions that ultimately squeezes down the airway. So, if we can prevent that initial airway-drying step by staying in a humid environment, we prevent the asthma attack altogether," Dr. Olin explains.
It's worked for Kristian, whose time in the pool has led to vast improvements in his lungs.
"It feels like it strengthens them. It really strengthens my muscles, and it's also really fun," he says.
Besides the humid air at the pool, experts say swimming also helps kids control breathing because they are forced to take long, deep breaths before going under water. So, starting an exercise routine with swimming could be beneficial to kids with asthma.