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Can swimming lessons curb asthma in children?

Can swimming lessons curb asthma in children?

Swimming lessons in children double as an effective recreational activity and exercise, having proven benefits in curbing asthma
Sudheer Akkisetty swam the asthma away from a young age. Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

Swimming happened to Sudheer Akkisetty by chance. As a child, Sudheer was tormented by asthma. The doctors prescribed several treatments, but none of it gave permanent respite from his breathing troubles. His doctor recommended that he learn swimming. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” says the 45-year-old from Bengaluru.

“Initially, I’d swim during weekends. It was mostly about having a fun time, as the overcrowded pool didn’t leave room for serious learning.”

While the occasional pool time didn’t see any results, it was when he began getting coached professionally, that he saw his asthma improving.


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Diving into professional swimming

“My father, also a swimmer, recognized that I had it in me to take up swimming professionally,” says Sudheer.

On graduating to professional swimming, he trained in the pool for eight hours every day.

“Initially, my asthma began kicking up, I would wheeze and was unable to swim for longer periods. After training consistently for over a year, I gradually saw my lung capacity improving,” he says.

Sudheer’s mettle went on to be widely recognised. He began winning several swimming championships. He represented Karnataka in national championships for over 18 years and has also represented India in Asia Pacific Championships.

“Being persistent and pushing yourself under the right guidance is key,” says Sudheer.

Sudheer presently coaches 70 kids, passing on his learnings and experiences gained during his much-celebrated swimming career.

Does swimming improve asthma in children? 

Swimming has an edge over other forms of physical activity, for people with asthma.

According to Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, consultant chest physician, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mumbai, swimming lessons in children can help improve asthma symptoms.

“The warm and humid environment in the swimming pool will help keep the airways open, enhancing breathing, compared to exercising in cold dry weather, which can potentially trigger asthma,” says Dr Ladhani.

“Psychological factors like stress and anxiety can also trigger asthma symptoms. Swimming promotes psychological well-being, keeping such triggers at bay,” he adds.

“There is lower exposure to allergens like pollen and hay during swimming compared to other outdoor exercises,” says Dr Haridarshan GJ, associate consultant, pediatrics, Apollo Hospital, Sheshadripuram, Bengaluru.

Dr Ladani throws a word of caution about the chlorine used to disinfect the pools. “Chlorine and other chemicals used in pools mix with sweat and urine, causing chemical reactions that emit gases that can irritate the airways, triggering asthma,” he says.

Asthma improves lung capacity

A 2012 comparative study of lung functions in swimmers and runners showed higher lung capacity in swimmers than runners.

“While swimming, your heart rate increases and you breathe faster, expanding your lung capacity,” says Dr Sarthak Rastogi, Consultant-Pulmonology, SL. Raheja Hospital, Mahim – A Fortis Associate.

“You also gain better breath control, along with improvements in cardiovascular health and stamina,” Dr Rastogi adds.

According to Dr Haridarshan, recreational swimming may worsen the symptoms. “It is long term-swimming that gradually improves your lung functions,” he says.

Benefits of starting early 

Satish Kumar, secretary, Karnataka Swimming Association, recommends learning swimming as a child as acquiring a new skill is faster and easier in childhood because the brain is still developing and more flexible in imbibing new information.

“The fluency and rhythm can be mastered better as a child than as an adult,” he points out.

Shedding light on the ideal age to begin swimming lessons, he says, “One can start as early as when the child is six months old, beginning classes at least by 5-6 years can be beneficial and translate into better health returns in adulthood.”

“As one grows older, there are chances of developing a fear of water. Learning swimming before such fears set in can help learn better and prevent developing these phobias in the future,” says Dr Ladhani.

Precautions for swimming with asthma

While swimming can help with asthma symptoms, not taking adequate precautions may prove counterproductive.

Dr Rastogi lists the precautions one must take while going for a swim.

  • Do not let your child swim if they have ongoing symptoms of asthma. Only venture into the pool if your child’s asthma symptoms are under check.
  • Ensure that the prescribed medications and inhalers are taken consistently to avoid exercise-induced asthma.
  • Make sure that the place is well-ventilated to avoid chlorine and other chemicals from aggravating asthma symptoms.
  • Ensure that there is no imbalance of the chemicals used in the pool water.
  • Keep a rescue inhaler handy and use it before swimming.
  • Warm up before the swim and cool down post the swim.
  • Take a shower before the swim.


  • The warm and humid environment of the pools can help ease asthma symptoms.
  • The imbalance of chlorine in the water can emit gases that can trigger asthma.
  • Learning to swim in childhood is faster and easier compared to learning in adulthood.
  • Do not go swimming while having ongoing symptoms of asthma.

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