How to Exercise With Asthma

Three Parts:Doing the Best Types of Exercise for AsthmaStaying Active with AsthmaControlling Asthma During Exercise

When you have asthma it's still important that you still exercise daily and stay in shape. Regular physical activity is important for chronic disease prevention and maintenance of a healthy weight; however, exercising regularly with asthma can be difficult. Exercise may set off symptoms or make them worse (like difficulty breathing and wheezing). Fortunately, with proper medication and routine doctor visits, most people with asthma can exercise frequently without any problems.[1] Just make sure you know how to control your asthma before doing any exercise and how to treat symptoms if they arise.

Part 1
Doing the Best Types of Exercise for Asthma

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    Walk. Walking is a great exercise for a large variety of people - including those with asthma. It's a low intensity activity that keeps your heart rate lower and doesn't cause deep or labored breathing.[2]
    • One study in particular showed that adults who walked three times a week showed improved fitness levels and had better control over their asthma after 12 weeks.[3]
    • Health and asthma professionals recommend doing a moderate to brisk walk a few times per week. However, you'll need to gauge how well you do with a moderate walk before advancing to more brisk or face paced walk.
    • Always warm-up before your walk and make sure to have your emergency inhaler handy just in case you need it. Aim for a 20–30 minute walk to start with if you're able. Work yourself up to longer times or a faster pace overtime.
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    Go for a swim. You may think that swimming is a harder exercise to do aerobically; however, swimming is actually a recommended cardio activity for those suffering with asthma.[4] Check to see if there's a pool in your area that you can use.
    • The reason that swimming is frequently recommended for asthmatics is because you're breathing in air that is highly humidified and warm. This is helps your lungs function better.
    • Try any type of water exercise that you have available. You can try water yoga, water aerobics, water walking or just swimming laps.
    • Aim for a 20–30 minute exercise session in the pool. If you notice your lungs do well and you can breathe well, you can consider increasing the length or intensity of your water exercises.
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    Try yoga. Another great exercise for asthmatics is yoga. Its low-intensity and keeps your breathing and heart rate even. In fact, some yoga poses can help decrease some symptoms of asthma.[5]
    • A recent study showed that a beginner yoga class helped improve the quality of life of women who had asthma. Their symptoms were more manageable when they practiced yoga more regularly.[6]
    • If you currently do not exercise or haven't done yoga before, start with a beginners class or intro class. They're designed to fit all fitness levels.
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    Do leisurely biking. Like walking or yoga, leisurely biking is a low-intensity activity. It does not cause overly deep or heavy breathing and is easier on your cardiovascular system.[7]
    • Try to go for leisurely bike rides during the week. If you're physically fit enough you can aim for 45–60 minutes. If you haven't been exercising regularly, you may want to start out with 20–30 minutes of biking.
    • Competitive cycling or spin classes may trigger asthma symptoms. Make sure you are cleared by your doctor and have your emergency inhaler available if you try higher intensity cycling.
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    Go for a short jog. Although long distance running or jogging can cause a flare in asthma symptoms, short jogs should be OK for most. Always talk to your doctor prior to beginning a jogging routine.
    • Health professionals agree that the types of exercises that can induce an asthma attack are high-intensity exercises, interval exercises or those activities that are done for a long period of time at a higher intensity.
    • Short bursts of moderate-intensity activities should be OK and are tolerated by most people with asthma.[8]
    • A short jog — about 20 or 30 minutes — can usually be tolerated well by someone who has asthma. If you are already active or can do 20–30 minutes of activity, a jog might be OK for you to try.
    • However, if your asthma frequently acts up with higher intensity exercises or is not well controlled, talk to your doctor before you start jogging.

Part 2
Staying Active with Asthma

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    Talk to your doctor and see her regularly. Whenever you have a chronic condition, it's important to speak to your doctor regularly and follow-up. With asthma, it's important to talk to your doctor about incorporating physical activity in a safe manner.
    • If you are not currently active, talk to your doctor about the appropriate way to include exercise in your weekly routine. Ask if there are activities you should avoid or if you should stick to any time limits.
    • Many doctors will also give you some tips on how to exercise safely and comfortably. For example, they may suggest swimming as a good exercise for you due to the humidity of the air.
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    Take your medications regularly. Asthma generally requires that you take medications regularly. Although there are no medications or procedures that can cure asthma, consistent medication use can prevent symptoms and provide a better quality of life.[9]
    • Many asthma medications work as you build up the medication in your body over time. Missing doses or being inconsistent can increase your risk of having symptoms or having an asthma attack. It is important that you follow the instructions and take your long-acting medications regularly to help prevent exacerbations, in addition to using your rescue inhaler for attacks.
    • Also make sure that you take your medications before doing any sort of exercise. This helps prevent symptoms from flaring during an aerobic activity.
    • If you're having regular symptoms but feel that you're taking your medication consistently and correctly, call your doctor immediately for follow-up.
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    Get to know your body. Asthma comes with very distinct signs and symptoms. When you suffer from asthma, it's essential that you know exactly how your body responds to medications and how it responds to triggers or allergens.[10]
    • Exercise can induce asthma symptoms in some people (generally referred to as exercise-induced asthma). Other people may respond to allergens like pollen or animal dander. Be aware of how much exercise or what activities typically set you off.
    • Also be aware of the signs of an asthma attack. Treating an attack quickly is imperative. Signs generally include: coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing (both inhaling and exhaling) and shortness of breath.
    • If you are consistently experiencing these symptoms when exercising, you need to see your doctor to talk about starting asthma medications or changing medications.
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    Choose short exercise sessions or activities that are low intensity. If you're looking to add in exercise or increase your exercise, try to do activities that are either lower in intensity or ones you do in short bursts. These types of activities are better tolerated by those with asthma.[11]
    • Asthma typically flares up during more high-intensity exercise or exercises that you do for a longer period of time.
    • If you want to do more moderate-intensity exercises, like jogging, only do them for short periods of time. This may vary for everyone depending on their fitness level and how well controlled their asthma is.

Part 3
Controlling Asthma During Exercise

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    Keep medications and rescue inhalers nearby. If you have asthma, you know it's important to have a rescue inhaler nearby. Symptoms can come at any time and you need to be prepared. Since exercise can trigger symptoms, bring your emergency medication with you.
    • Even if you've never experienced symptoms during exercise, it's essential that you keep your emergency inhaler available just in case you need it.
    • Keep an emergency inhaler in your gym bag or purse so that you can access it at the gym. If you're going for a jog, stick your emergency inhaler into a running pack to keep it on you.
    • Keep track of the expiration dates on all of your emergency medication. If you don't use these inhalers often, it might be easy to forget that they've expired. Check them regularly to make sure you have an up-to-date inhaler with you.
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    Perform warm-up exercises. Warm-up exercises are recommended before any type of physical activity. They get your body ready for a more intense session. This is especially important if you have asthma.
    • Warm-ups are intended to get your lungs, heart and muscles primed for exercise. With asthma, it's important to focus on warming up your lungs. You do not want to instantly increase your breathing rate as this could spark an asthma attack.
    • Warm-ups need to be for at least five to 10 minutes. It's best to do a slower or lower intensity version of the exercise you're planning on doing.
    • For example, walk for 10 minutes before doing a 20 minute jog. Or do water walking before starting to do laps.
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    Protect your lungs from the cold. An interesting issue with many asthmatics is cold air. Although not an allergen per se, cold and dry air can trigger asthma symptoms. This is especially true when you're exercising.[12]
    • Cold, dry air can trigger the bronchioles in your lungs to contract making it difficult to breath.
    • Rapid and quick inhalation or sudden exposure to cold air can trigger symptoms. When you're exercising, this increases your risk of experiencing symptoms due to the cold air.
    • It's important to keep warmer air flowing into your lungs until they are warmed up for exercise. When it's cold outside, wear a scarf over your mouth, breathe into your shirt or wear a face mask that covers your mouth. These items help warm the air before your breathe it into your lungs.
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    Avoid exercising with your allergens. Everyone with asthma has some sort of trigger. This is something that causes you to have symptoms or to have an asthma attack.[13]
    • If exercise causes you to have symptoms of asthma or to have an asthma attack make sure you monitor your overall intensity.
    • If pollen triggers symptoms of asthma, consider exercising indoors at home or at the gym. Exercising in a high pollen season can more quickly trigger an asthma attack.
    • Also be mindful if your triggers are animal dander, dust, mold or other household allergens. Doing a workout at home may be triggered by these allergens as well.


  • Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Your physician will let you know what types of and how much exercise you can do with your asthma.
  • If you notice you're having difficulty breathing during exercise, stop and take your emergency inhaler. Make sure to also contact your doctor.
  • There is evidence that poor physical activity may actually be a risk factor for developing asthma, and that physical activity can help make asthma symptoms better.[14]

Article Info

Categories: Asthma | Personal Fitness