According to records from the last five Olympic Games, 8% of Olympic athletes suffer from asthma, making it the most common chronic disease at the games. The data was collected by Australian researchers, who also found that athletes who suffer asthma often out-perform the competition. They’re not sure why asthma would make for better athletes (or vice-versa), but one thing seems clear: If they can play sports despite their condition, so can you.
Researchers analyzed data from both summer and winter games, and found a high prevalence of athletes who suffered either asthma or airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR–an exaggerated brochial response, characterized by hypersensitive airways). The late onset in many of the older athletes suggests that training could be at least partly responsible; they also think that inhaling polluted or cold air could contribute.
But the weirdest finding is probably that asthma correlates with better performance in many athletes. Researchers aren’t sure what accounts for the link. Although some have wondered if inhalers could be a method of doping (Dara Torres was accused of boosting her performance with an inhaler in 2010) and inhaler use has sharply increased since 1996, the International Olympic Committee says they monitor the use of inhaled beta-2 agonists (IBA), the most common anti-asthma inhaler, to protect athlete safety, not because of anti-doping concerns.
The more likely explanation is either genetics, or the possibility that these athletes’ training could be tougher on their airways.
The research is definitely incomplete, but it’s encouraging nonetheless: Here’s proof that even if you have asthma, you don’t have to give up on being an athlete.
Photo: flickr user noii