How to Work Out When You Have Asthma

Why it's time to come up with an asthma-friendly exercise plan.

For some people, exercise can exacerbate asthma symptoms or trigger asthma attacks—this is called exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). However, research shows that engaging in a regular exercise routine offers numerous health benefits to people with asthma. Regular exercise can strengthen your immune system, improve your lung capacity, help you manage your weight and reduce your risk of many serious illnesses. The key to exercising with asthma is finding the right type of exercise that works the body without triggering an attack.

Speak to your healthcare provider first

Before beginning an exercise program, people with asthma—or any chronic health condition, really—should speak to their healthcare provider about exercising safely, including potential exercise restrictions and what to do if symptoms flare. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an inhaler with a short-acting bronchodilator to use as a preventative measure before you exercise. It is also important that your asthma action plan addresses what to do in case of an asthma attack during exercise. Some people may need to wear medical identification to aid first responders in the event of an emergency.

Not all activities are created equal

With asthma, activities and sports that require short intervals of exertion are generally preferred over those that require sustained periods of exertion. Gymnastics, wrestling, volleyball, golf and baseball are all examples of activities that are performed with intervals of exertion (though they do involve endurance training), while distance running, soccer, basketball and field hockey require more sustained periods of exertion. Cycling, walking, yoga, running on a treadmill and strength training are other forms of exercise that can offer a lot of benefit to people with asthma.

Setting might be important

Swimming may work for some people—pools are typically warm, humid environments that don’t aggravate the airways—however, chlorine may be an asthma trigger for some. Cold-environment activities such as ice hockey and cross-country skiing might not work because they involve breathing cold, dry air, which can trigger asthma symptoms.

However, everyone is different. If you have seasonal allergies that set off asthma, exercising indoors may be easier for you, particularly when the pollen count is high. For people whose asthma is sparked by chemicals, dust and scented products, exercising outdoors may be a better choice.

Warm up and cool down

Regardless of what form of activity you select, you can help reduce your chances of aggravating your asthma by taking the time to do a warm up and cool down before and after your workout. It’s also important to pay attention to how you're feeling before you head to the gym or the track. If you have a cold or an illness, it's best to take it easy.

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