Exercise and asthma

Posted on 3 February 2017

Exercise is a common trigger for asthma symptoms, but asthma shouldn’t be a reason to avoid exercise. Proper diagnosis and an effective treatment plan can help asthma sufferers enjoy the many benefits of appropriate exercise.

Should people with asthma exercise?

Asthma is a common respiratory condition with attacks characterised by constriction of the bronchi (airways in the lungs) and difficulty breathing. Reactions differ among individual cases, as do triggers, which include various allergens, psychological stress and exercise.

Many people assume that exercise is bad for asthma sufferers as exercise is a common trigger for asthma symptoms. But one of the goals of effective treatment of asthma is for sufferers to maintain a regular, healthy lifestyle – which includes exercise.

Benefits of exercise for asthma

Avoiding triggers is a key component in managing and controlling asthma. But avoiding exercise can lead to sufferers becoming unfit and more vulnerable to attacks.

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews published a review of 19 studies on exercising with asthma in 2012, which found that exercise for asthma sufferers is safe. The review also found that exercise improves heart and lung fitness and enhances quality of life.

Other benefits of exercising when you have asthma include:

  • reduced symptoms
  • improved breathing
  • decreased stress and anxiety.

Most people with asthma should be able to exercise, provided their asthma is well controlled. They should be properly diagnosed and have a customised treatment plan to monitor and manage symptoms.

The most effective treatment of asthma is identifying and avoiding triggers. If exercise causes asthma symptoms, however, it is possible that a small change in your treatment plan is all that is needed for relief of symptoms during physical activity.

Safety first

Asthma causes the lungs to be hypersensitive to temperature, humidity, allergens and pollution. That is why where and when you exercise, as well as how you breathe when you exercise, is of utmost importance to exercising safely.

Consulting your doctor should always be your first point of call before initiating any new exercise plan. Your doctor will be able to assess what level of activity would be appropriate for you, as well as which physical activity to choose. Swimming is a popular option for asthmatics, because the air you breathe while swimming is usually warm and moist, but there are a number of other activities to choose from.

Recommended physical activities for people with asthma:

  • swimming
  • yoga
  • pilates
  • walking
  • hiking
  • cycling
  • golf

With proper guidance, it should be possible to undertake any form of exercise, but certain activities are more likely to trigger asthma symptoms. These include sports performed in cold weather and endurance sports like basketball or long-distance running.

Whichever activity is chosen – and approved by your doctor – take these steps to ensure you exercise safely:

  1. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Inhaling through the mouth while exercising is tough on the lungs. Breathing in through the nose means the air is moistened, warmed and filtered.
  2. Your doctor will be able to make adjustments to your medication to facilitate increased physical activity. Bronchodilators are usually recommended for use 15 minutes before exercise.
  3. Exercise indoors if pollution or pollen counts are high.
  4. Include warm-ups before and cool-downs after workouts.
  5. Never exercise when you’re not feeling well.
  6. Always carry an inhaler.






Published in Exercise

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