Before beginning an exercise program, you should always check with your doctor to develop a safe and healthy exercise plan that’s right for you.
Exercising with Asthma: Benefits and Risks
Effective asthma management starts with maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity. When it comes to exercise, awareness of the advantages and risks allows you to better tailor a fitness routine that’s right for you.
- Improved lung efficiency and capacity
- Improved heart function and efficiency
- Decreased risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and dementia
- Reduced likelihood of stroke, osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Improved strength, endurance, posture, and flexibility
- Triggering asthma symptoms, particularly in those with exercise-induced asthma
- Environmental risk factors, such as humidity levels, hot or cold temperatures, air pollution or allergens
- Safety and Controlling Asthma Symptoms when Exercising
The best way to control asthma symptoms while exercising is to develop a fitness program with your physician.
He or she may offer some of the same tips as the American Lung Association1, such as:
- Use quick-relief asthma medications before beginning an exercise routine, often referred to as “rescue inhalers”
- Keep quick-relief asthma medications on-hand while exercising
- Properly warm up and cool down
- Assess asthma symptoms before exercising and modify activities accordingly
- Monitor the body’s response while working out
- Focus on indoor activities in the winter and when allergen or pollution counts are high
- Dress to stay warm while exercising outdoors when it’s cold (consider a mask that keeps raw cold air out)
- Stop physical activity and rest when asthma symptoms appear and, if needed, use your rescue inhaler
Good Exercises for Those with Asthma
When exercising with asthma, you should base your activities on your symptoms and history. Some people with asthma can perform exercises that involve extended periods of exertion, while others cannot tolerate such activities as well. But let’s face it” no one knows your limits better than you.
In general, good exercises include:
- Walking2: A study published in PubMed Central found that adults with asthma improved their symptoms after walking briskly for 30 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks. The routine included warming up and cooling down for 5 minutes.
- Yoga: Yoga focuses on breathing correctly and controlled breath, which benefit the lungs. The slow, controlled movements in this low-impact exercise help build strength and flexibility without stressing the lungs or joints. Other low-impact exercises that require mindful breathing include
- Pilates, strength training, and tai chi.
- Biking (inside or outdoors): Leisurely biking on terrains that aren’t too challenging is generally safe for those with asthma. The key is to not dry out airways, which may happen when someone breathes heavily.
- Golfing: Swinging a club and walking are beneficial activities that seem to keep asthma symptoms at bay. The trick is to golf when pollen counts are low.
- Downhill skiing: While cross-country skiing is among the worst exercises for an asthmatic, downhill skiing in warm clothing on an easy trail is gentle on the lungs and airways.
- Baseball and softball: For an individual with asthma, problems usually occur after five to ten minutes of intense heart-pumping activities.
These team sports only require short bursts of high-energy activity, which gives the body time to recover. Other team sports that are good for those with asthma include volleyball and flag football. Basketball and soccer require constant running and may not be the best options, but with proper medication, many asthmatics have played these sports with limited issues.
While physical activities may narrow bronchial tubes, exercising with asthma is a possibility with the proper precautions and symptom management. Of course, always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program to develop a plan that’s right for you. Utilizing effective treatment, an individual can experience the benefits of exercising without worrying about the risks.
2“Feasibility of exercising adults with asthma: a randomized pilot study,” NCBI, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3511803/.