Can swimming help asthmatics? We found out at BTYSTE 2016

8 Jan 2016

Ivana Pyne of St Flannan’s College Clare at BTYSTE 2016 - all images via Luke Maxwell

In the second part of our round-up of day three of BTYSTE 2016, we found out how swimming helps lung capacity, lung functionality helps asthma and the Smoky Coal Ban of 1990 was good news for breathers everywhere.

Sport, I love it. Swimming in particular, I love it. Asthma, I had it. Dublin, I live there. These four ingredients inspire the final round-up of eye-catching stands at this year’s BTYSTE.

Greeting us once we walked in the door at the RDS, the biological and ecological sciences section was awash with fine ideas and remarkably relaxed entrants.

Take my breath away

First up, we met with Ivana Pyne and Ruairí Power from St Flannan’s College in Clare. With the help of a giant barrel, some fake lungs and a rubber diaphragm, these two showed off their research.

Called Swimming: Do you take my breath away?’, Pyne and Power sought to prove stronger lungs make for better swimmers, while showing that it also helps fight against asthma.

When I was a kid, I suffered pretty badly from asthma and swimming did me the world of good. I presumed it was something to do with lung strength but, as Pyne and Power show, it’s as much to do with knowing when and, surprisingly, how to breathe.

BTYSTE 2016Ivana Pyne and Ruiari Power of St Flannan’s College in Clare looked at breathing techniques at BTYSTE 2016

They investigated the effects of two breathing techniques on competitive swimmers. First up was diaphragmatic breathing, which means breathing with your diaphragm, rather than making your belly rise and fall.

The second was called steps, which means holding your mouth and nose closed and walking around, counting your steps until you need to breathe again. “Until you get the urge to breathe,” explained Power, “this isn’t about holding it as long as you physically can”.

The results were marked improvements among those who took the time to practice these techniques regularly. Greater lung control and working the muscle ultimately helped swimmers and, according to the duo, asthmatics too.

“Breathing is big,” said Pyne, and who can argue with that?

What sport is best?

BTYSTE 2016Christopher Carew of Mountrath Community School in Laois wanted to find out which sport is best for asthmatics

Just around the corner was Christopher Carew from Mountrath Community School in Laois. On a remarkably similar theme, he was looking at which sports can best aid sufferers of asthma.

Looking at swimming, football and basketball over six weeks, Carew found swimming had the best effect on asthmatics after going through a bunch of different exercises, aerobic work, sprint work and some games.

Across the six activities, swimmers had the most significant increase in lung function, basketball was a distant second, with football third. Naturally enough, the control group saw no change.

Surmising that, the better the lung function, the better the patient can fight asthma, Carew added that “swimmers also had the biggest increase in quality of life – probably at least as important”.

Dublin on the up

BTYSTE 2016Harry Kearns of Blackrock College showed how much better Dublin air is now in comparison to 1988

Lastly, we met with Harry Kearns from Blackrock College in Dublin (his school’s other entrant featured in yesterday’s round-up). Kearns took a novel approach to investigating air pollution in Dublin and its somewhat dramatic change since the Smoky Coal Ban of 1990.

A report into the Irish capital’s air quality in 1988 was used as a barometer, with lichens the pollution indicators due to their tolerance of varying levels of CO2. So, with a pen and paper in hand, Kearns went out and about in Dublin looking for lichens.

It turns out that in areas where previously no lichens had been found, Kearns found an abundance of them. In areas where some were found 27 years ago, Kearns found more. Synopsis? The air is getting better.

“No areas got worse. It’s all good,” he said.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic