Asthma sufferers will often avoid exercise, fearing that it will worsen their condition or induce an asthma attack. Whilst it can be the case that exercise triggers symptoms, this should not be a reason for it to be avoided. Many top athletes have asthma, and good management of your symptoms will allow you to build a healthy lifestyle that incorporates exercise.
Can exercise stop asthma symptoms?
Some types of exercise can reduce or prevent asthma symptoms. They work by making your lungs stronger without worsening inflammation.
Specifically, these activities minimize symptoms because they:
- Increase endurance – Over time, working out can help your airways build up tolerance to exercise. This makes it easier for your lungs to perform activities that usually make you winded, like walking up stairs.
- Reduce inflammation – Though asthma inflames the airways, regular exercise can actually decrease inflammation. It works by reducing inflammatory proteins, which improves how your airways respond to exercise.
- Improve lung capacity – The more you work out, the more your lungs get used to consuming oxygen. This decreases how hard your body must work to breathe on a daily basis.
- Strengthen muscle – When your muscles are strong, the body functions more efficiently during everyday activities.
- Improve cardiovascular fitness – Exercise improves the overall conditioning of the heart, improving blood flow and the delivery of oxygen.
In addition to physical activity, certain breathing exercises can also reduce asthma symptoms. These methods help by opening the airways, moving fresh air into the lungs, and reducing the effort of breathing.
Examples of breathing exercises for asthma include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing,
- nasal breathing,
- pursed lip breathing.
However, it’s still important to take your medications as explained by your doctor. This is the best way to control asthma symptoms, especially during exercise.
Staying healthy when you have asthma
Exercise and physical activity are important elements of a healthy lifestyle and a part of managing your asthma. Weight loss can reduce the risk of an attack. Therefore, it’s key that your asthma does not stop you from exercising daily. Likewise, it is important to encourage your children and young people to participate in sports and maintain a healthy lifestyle, so their asthma does not worsen.
There are recommended types of exercise depending on the severity of your asthma, and it is important that you take medical advice when it comes to making your choices.
Our top 7 tips for asthmatics incorporating exercise into their lifestyle are:
- Have a good handle on your asthma management. Know what your triggers are and monitor your lung function and symptoms.
- Know your limits and gradually up your activity level, rather than immediately introduce a heavy schedule of activities, incorporate walking or cycling more into your day to day life.
- Involve shorter bursts of activity, rather than longer endurance sports, are better for asthmatics.
- Avoid cold air
- Wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth can be a simple but effective way to stop the cold air aggravating your asthma during winter exercise.
- Avoid breathing through your mouth during exercise
- Always warm up – and cool down properly.
- Drinking water and enough fluids
Exercise can lower your stress levels, which makes for a happier, healthier life, as well as reducing your likelihood of an asthma attack! It is best to consult your GP before adjusting your exercise levels drastically. Also, ensure you understand how to use your inhaler and are doing so correctly:
What are exercises that asthmatics can do?
In general, the best exercises for asthmatic patients involve brief bursts of exertion. Gentle, low-intensity activities are also ideal. These exercises don’t overwork your lungs, so they’re less likely to cause asthma symptoms.
Team sports that require short bursts of effort
Team sports that require short bursts of effort, like volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, and wrestling, are good. So are activities like walking, biking, and hiking, which can be done alone or with a group. Swimming is also a good choice because you usually breathe in a lot of warm, moist air when you do it. It’s also a great way to strengthen your upper body.
What are the best forms of exercise for asthma?
In general, the best exercises for asthma involve brief bursts of exertion. Gentle, low-intensity activities are also ideal. These exercises don’t overwork your lungs, so they’re less likely to cause asthma symptoms.
Everyone is different, though. Be sure to consult your doctor and pay attention to your body.
You can try:
Swimming is one of the most recommended exercises for people with asthma. You can added as part of your cardio will naturally ease your symptoms thanks to the warm atmosphere, but strong chemicals can cause tightness of the chest, so swimming pools with a high level of chlorine may not be the best option here, try water-salt pools.
As a low-intensity activity, walking is another great choice. This form of exercise is gentle on the body, which makes it easier to breathe. For the most comfortable experience, only walk outside when it’s warm. Dry, cool air can trigger or worsen your symptoms. You can also walk on a treadmill or indoor track.
Another option is to enjoy a gentle hike. Choose a trail that’s relatively flat or has a slow, steady incline.
If you have allergies, check the local pollen count before hiking. Only hike if pollen levels are low.
If you have EIB, try biking at a leisurely pace. This is another gentle activity that doesn’t involve constant exertion.
You can also do indoor cycling on a stationary bike.
Short-distance track and field
If you’d like to run, opt for short-distance running activities such as sprints.
Sports with short bursts of activity
The following sports are appropriate for people with asthma. These activities involve intermittent breaks, which are gentler on the lungs.
Team sports that require long bursts of effort
Sports like soccer, distance running, basketball, and hockey that require a lot of effort for a long time may not be as easy. Also, sports that take place in cold weather, like ice hockey, cross-country skiing, and ice skating, can be hard. But a lot of people with asthma can still do all of these things.
Running on a track or outside may not be recommended in people with more uncontrolled asthma due to the ongoing effort required.
How can I control my asthma when I exercise?
Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise programme.
If your asthma action plan tells you to, you should always take your pre-exercise asthma medicine (most often inhaled bronchodilators) before you start to exercise.
- Do some exercises to warm up, and then have a good cool-down period afterward.
- If it’s cold outside, work out inside or wear a mask or scarf over your mouth and nose.
- If you have allergic asthma, don’t work out outside when there are a lot of pollen or other things in the air.
- If you have a viral infection like a cold, you should limit how much you work out.
- Work out at the right level for you.
Staying active is good for both your body and your mind. Remember that having asthma is not a reason not to work out. With the right diagnosis and the best treatment, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of exercise without having asthma symptoms.
- https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/a40105186/exercise-for-asthma/ (accessed March 2023)
- https://www.healthline.com/health/asthma/exercise-for-asthma#best-exercises (acessed March 2023)
- https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/living-with-asthma/exercise-and-activities/ (accessed March 2023)
- https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/exercising-asthma (accessed March 2023)
- https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/asthma-and-exercise (accessed March 2023)
- https://asthma.ca/get-help/living-with-asthma/exercising-asthma/ (accessed March 2023)