Exercise Tips for Asthma Patients: 3 Steps to Success

Asthma, whether chronic or induced only by exercise, can cause a bunch of symptoms that make working up a sweat unpleasant, and possibly even downright dangerous. When you’re wheezing, short of breath, coughing, and even experiencing chest pain, finishing that run or tennis game can be nearly impossible. Yet you enjoy exercising, and need activity to stay healthy. How can you remain fit when asthma threatens to sink your workout? Follow these steps:

    1. First, speak with your doctor if you develop asthma symptoms when working out, or if symptoms you’ve experienced in the past persist. He or she may prescribe a controller medication that will be taken on a regular basis, a short-acting medication to be used right before exercise, or both. You can also use short-acting medications should symptoms develop during your workout.
    2. Next, come up with a workout plan that minimizes your asthma. Consider both the kinds of activities that would be best for you as well as the conditions in which you exercise. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you’re probably better off avoiding exercise in cold and/or dry air. You should also be extremely cautious if the air quality is poor due to excessive pollution, or particularly high pollen levels, for instance. In those cases, consider switching out your morning jog in the park for an indoor treadmill session or cardio class until the air quality improves. But make sure any indoor fitness facility you frequent is well ventilated and doesn’t use any bleach or harsh chemicals that might trigger your symptoms.
    3. Finally, pick and choose your sports carefully based on your symptoms. Experts say swimming, walking and/or cycling can be the answer. Here’s why:

Swimming works well for many people with breathing difficulties, according to the experts at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. This is largely due to the moist, warm air you’ll be breathing in as you do it. The moist air keeps airways open for easier breathing. However, be aware that chlorine can cause asthma to flare, so it’s not for everyone.

Walking or cycling is fine as long as the weather cooperates. And note that while you may be wary of sports that require periods of heavy exertion, such as soccer, don’t rule anything out before giving it a try. "The reality is that every sporting activity has the risk of triggering an asthma episode, and the level of that risk is different for each patient," says Jonathan Parsons, MD, associate director of The Ohio State University Asthma Center. "In the end, we want to encourage exercise." No matter what you pick, include a warm-up and cool-down period.