"There is nothing like sport to improve your breathing!" people often say. Yet this is one piece of advice many top athletes must wish they never listened to, as there is no longer any doubt that an alarming proportion of them experience quite the opposite effect: too much training is actually bad for their breathing.
A broad-ranging survey conducted in Norway among 1600 top athletes by the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education showed recently just how widespread the damage has been. No less than one athlete in ten -- regardless of the type of sport -- suffers from asthma or wheeze.
The US Olympic Committee reached similar conclusions after the 1996 summer games in Atlanta. Responding to a questionnaire, 117 out of 700 athletes (or more than 16%) reported suffering from asthma. The worst affected were the cyclists, where the proportion rose to 50%!
On Saturday, the lung experts meeting in Florence also mentioned the damage caused by long-distance running. The organizer of the symposium on Asthma and Sports, Kai-Hkon Carlsen, professor at the Voksentoppen Children's Asthma and Allergy Center in Oslo, gave the findings of a Finnish survey of 58 marathon runners. The study showed that 15 of the runners (26%) exhibited seasonal bronchial contraction, either in the spring on account of the pollen, or in winter due to the cold. The same research group confirmed the findings with a study of 71 long-distance runners, reaching the conclusion that they were three times more likely to suffer from asthma than ordinary people.
Swimming also appears high on the black list discussed at the World Congress on Lung Diseases, although the process involved is quite different. The danger in the case of swimming comes rather from inhaled chlorine molecules. "In swimming pools, swimmers can be exposed to doses close to industrial ceilings," according to Kai-Hkon Carlsen. A survey he mentions, involving 29 top swimmers, shows that 14 suffered from asthma-
Contact: European Respiratory Society Press Office
European Respiratory Society