The early life of Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, was shaped in large part by his severe asthma. In fact, some could say, as explained on the website
SparkNotes.com, that his experience with the
breathing condition played a significant role in the man he eventually became.
Roosevelt's Early Struggle with Asthma
Theodore Roosevelt was born in October 1858 in New York City to a well-known and distinguished family. He was the oldest son of four children.
A sickly child, "Teedie", as he was called by his family, was often unable to participate in many childhood activities that are usually taken for
granted like playing outside and going to school.
Teddy suffered from headaches, toothaches, and abdominal pain as well as debilitating asthma. Doctors didn't understand the disease very well
at the time, and Teddy was prescribed such remedies as going on vacation to the coast, smoking cigars, and drinking coffee and whiskey. He tried all of
these remedies, but (not surprisingly) they did not cure his condition.
Confined indoors, Teddy kept himself busy. In addition to being privately tutored until he entered college, Teddy began to write down his
experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a journal. This practice persisted throughout his life. He also became a voracious reader.
On the few occasions
he was able to venture outdoors, he collected plants and animals to study.
Exercise and a Strong Body Overcome Teddy's Asthma
During this period, Teddy became extremely close to his father, Theodore Sr., who would stay awake with him during nights of sickness and
who would take him on nighttime carriage rides to distract his son from his illness. Theodore Sr. imparted a strong moral conscience into his
son. When Teddy was twelve years old, his father lectured him on the importance of developing the body in order to completely develop the mind.
Teddy took this advice to heart and his father built him a home gym. He lifted weights, did gymnastics, and also rode horseback, swam,
hiked, wrestled, boxed, and learned judo. Eventually, as his body became strong, his asthma disappeared, and Teddy went on to Harvard University
and eventually to lead a full and adventurous life, both personally and in politics.
Exercise and Asthma
There are two sides to the relationship between exercise and asthma, and its important that they are both properly understood. Exercise can
actually induce asthma attacks, and there even exists the designation exercise-induced asthma for certain cases. This specific type of asthma
can occur in individuals who don't experience asthma for any other reason.
Simply put, exercise-induced asthma in large part has to do with the change in breathing that exercises causes. While we normally breathe
through our noses, during exercise, mouth breathing usually occurs. When breathing through the nose, inhaled air is warmed by blood vessels in
the nose; however, when breathing through the mouth, cooler air hits the lungs. This cooler air is also dry since cooler air retains less moisture than
warm air. The contrast between this colder, drier air
and the warm lungs can trigger an attack, as described on
The other, positive, relationship between asthma and exercise, as is evident in the case of Teddy Roosevelt, is that proper exercise can greatly
reduce the incidence of asthma attacks. Exercise helps increase lung capacity, which goes a very long way in helping asthma sufferers find relief
from symptoms and attacks.
WebMD offers the following tips for exercising with asthma:
- Exercise 4-5 times per week for at least half an hour. Definitely discuss with your doctor how much exercise is right for you.
Use your pre-exercise inhaler before starting your exercise routine.
- Perform warm-up exercises, and maintain a proper cool down period as well.
- If the weather is cold, exercise inside or wear a
cold weather mask.
- If you also have allergic asthma, avoid exercising outdoors when pollen counts are high or when there is excessive air pollution.
- Restrict exercise when you have a cold or other illness.
Make sure to talk with your doctor about how exercise may help your asthma.
And remember what we've learned from each of the famous allergy and asthma sufferers we've visited through this series: As restrictive as
these conditions can seem at times, their role in your life can shape the person you are becoming for the better.