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Asthma and Exercise: How to Be Productive but Safe


People with asthma typically experience several symptoms, including shortness of breath and chest tightness, which can be frightening. For asthma sufferers who want to exercise to achieve better health, these symptoms can make it more difficult or seemingly impossible.

Primary medical care and the following activity guidelines can improve quality of life and make better health possible for asthma sufferers.

Changing Misconceptions

While it’s true that exercising with asthma can trigger an exercise-induced asthma attack, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid exercising.

In fact, BMJ Open Respiratory Research study done in 2015 revealed that asthma sufferers who engaged in high levels of physical activity were almost 2.5 times better at controlling their symptoms when compared with those who did not engage in exercise.1

Of course, the above statistics may be all well and good, but, as an asthma sufferer, how do you get beyond the fear of triggering an attack and begin a safe, enjoyable, and productive exercise routine?

Get Proper Guidance

The most important step you can take when considering an exercise routine is to talk with your doctor. Your doctor can recommend maintenance therapy to keep symptoms under control during physical activity.

Next, you will want to speak with your doctor regarding a safe exercise routine. This may involve undergoing a stress test to gauge your response to physical activity. You may also be instructed to take medication prior to beginning exercise to prevent an asthma attack during exercise.

Your doctor may recommend using a peak flow meter. This device can help you discern the difference between regular exercise-induced breathlessness from that related to your asthma, which will tell you whether or not medication is needed.

The Right Location and Conditions

As you already know, the conditions of your environment can have a lot to do with the severity of your symptoms. This is even more important where it comes to exercise. Of course, the particulars of what triggers asthma symptoms are very individual.

Keeping track of what commonly triggers your symptoms is a very good place to start. Once you are aware of these triggers, you can choose the best times and locations for you.

Exercising in warm temperatures is typically better for asthma sufferers than people with asthma who exercise in cold weather. Warm, moist air will keep your airways lubricated and relaxed, whereas cold air is more likely to cause airway constriction and an increased difficulty with breathing.

The Right Speed and Intensity

If this is your first foray into exercising with asthma, it’s critical that you start slowly with low-intensity activities. Although you should always speak with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise routine, it’s generally a good idea to begin with shorter periods of exercise of about 20 to 30 minutes daily. If you cannot engage in this activity for 20 minutes, simply monitor yourself and adjust your exercise time accordingly.

Every person is different, and it’s important to remember that not everyone will be able to work out for the same amount of time, or even the same intensity, on a daily basis. You should be ready to experiment with different levels of ability and, most importantly, monitor yourself for the warning signs of an impending attack.

These warning signs include lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. If you experience any of these symptoms while exercising, stop immediately and allow your body to rest and reset. Breathe slowly and as deeply as you can. If you are in cooler weather, seek a warm space.

The Benefits of Walking

Walking is an ideal low-intensity exercise that can be used by beginners as a starting activity or by seasoned exercisers as a warm-up prior to high-intensity exercise. A recent study revealed improvement in the control of asthma symptoms and fitness levels in asthma patients who walked three times weekly for a 12-week period.2

Walking is a very beneficial for building tolerance to different exercises as well as for the body’s respiratory system and muscle groups. Once you’ve been walking for some time, you may consider your next step. One beneficial asthma and cardio exercise option is to add the use of ski poles when walking.

Pole Walking

“Pole walking” or “ski walking” was invented in the early 1990s in Finland. Originally developed as a way for cross-country skiers to train during the summer, this form of exercise has since made its way into the exercise routines of people all over the world.

Pole walking today involves specialized poles which have been shortened and typically have removable rubber stoppers on their tips so they can be used on all types of terrain. Unlike regular walking, pole walking involves the whole body. It causes walkers to use their backs, arms, necks, and shoulder muscles.

With all of these muscles engaged, the body burns more calories, blood sugar is lowered, and metabolism is enhanced. As a result, cardiovascular health is improved.


Yoga ideal exercise for asthma

Yoga is another ideal exercise for those with asthma; it involves breathing deeply and increases activity in areas of the lungs. Yoga is considered to be a low-impact exercise, and a review published by the Cochrane Library in 2016 revealed that yoga did positively impact the quality of life of those with asthma.3

One important caution regarding yoga, be sure to keep taking your medication as you exercise. Some asthma patients have been able to reduce or eliminate their medications, but this is not recommended without speaking with your doctor prior to reducing or stopping your medication.


Many with asthma wonder if engaging in sports will trigger the signs and symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. The truth is it depends on the sport. Any sport that involves frequent stopping and starting will likely be more beneficial than continuous activities that cause a sustained increased heart and breathing rate.

Baseball is one of the best sports because it alternates running with stopping at each base. Those stationed at bases or in the outfield also engage in short spurts of activity, making any position on the field ideal for safe exercise.

Some sports identified by doctors as being high risk include hockey and skiing. Hockey requires longer periods of activity, which increase a person’s breathing and heart rate. It also involves breathing cold air, which can trigger attacks. The same is true of skiing. Even lower impact cross-country skiing can trigger symptoms due to environmental triggers.

Man using inhaler during asthma

Basketball and soccer aren’t recommended for those who are just starting to exercise because both sports don’t have frequent rest periods. Volleyball can be beneficial because there is a lower level of physical activity needed to play and your teammates can cover for you if you need a bit of a break.

Those who enjoy skiing can combat the negative effects of breathing cold air by covering their nose and mouth with a scarf or balaclava. This allows air to be heated and moistened prior to inhalation.


Swimming is an ideal exercise for those with asthma and another way to exercise the entire body. This activity involves breathing of humidified, and often warm air. The horizontal position of the swimmer can also help to loosen mucus in the lungs that can otherwise make it difficult to breathe.

One concern with swimming is the exposure to chlorine, which can trigger an attack. Help ensure your time in the pool is healthy by visiting a few locations to check how they maintain their pools. If you can smell the chlorine, it’s very likely that your symptoms will be triggered. Many public pools are kept clean by using brine, which is a more natural substance that isn’t likely to trigger an attack.

Have Your Rescue Inhaler Ready

Regardless of the type of sport or activity you engage in, you should always carry a rescue inhaler with you. This will allow you to prevent or control any sudden attacks which can arise as the result of physical activity, or changes in temperature and humidity where the activity is taking place.

Additional Help for Your Asthma Symptoms

Asthma can make it difficult to engage in the physical activity you used to enjoy or begin an exercise routine that will improve your overall health. Regular consultation with your doctor, as well as treatment by specialists, can help you regain and maintain a high quality of life.

The specialists at Crystal Run Healthcare have helped many asthma sufferers to manage their condition. We work with you to develop a customized treatment plan that involves our range of comprehensive asthma and allergy treatments to reduce your symptoms so you can get back to doing what you love. For a Crystal Run Healthcare primary care provider near you, call 1-845-703-6999.