January 24, 2017

Staying Fit with Asthma

by Rob Fischer

Years ago in one of his comedy routines, Steve Allen explained, “Asthma doesn’t seem to bother me any more unless I’m around cigars or dogs. The thing that would bother me most would be a dog smoking a cigar!”

While a dog smoking a cigar is a humorous image, if you have asthma, you know that asthma is no laughing matter. As many as 20 million Americans suffer with the disease.[1]

When I was a kid, asthma didn’t seem to be as prevalent as it is today, but I remember one boy in grade school who was excused from many sports activities because of his asthma. In fact, for years we thought that exercise was bad for people with asthma. But as with so many other medical conditions, we understand a whole lot more about asthma today than we did back then.

asthma triggersThere are two basic types of asthma: chronic asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Exercise can bring on asthmatic symptoms with either type. Those symptoms include:[2]

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest

But with the right preparation and the right activities there is no reason you can’t enjoy engaging in physical fitness like anyone else. And there are plenty of good reasons why you should do so.

Reasons to Stay Fit with Asthma

  1. Maintaining physical fitness is good for asthma, whereas poor health exacerbates it.[3]
  2. By staying fit, you can improve your control of asthma.[4]
  3. Staying fit also increases breath control and can help you reduce your asthma medication.[5]
  4. Keeping in shape with asthma improves heart and lung health.[6]
  5. Being fit with asthma will enhance your quality of life on many levels![7]

Recognize Asthma “Triggers”

A number of factors can trigger an asthmatic attack. Being aware of these factors can help you choose activities that are right for you and help you identify the cause of an attack to avoid future occurrences. These triggers include:

  • Deep, rapid breathing especially through the mouth
  • Dry air
  • Cold air
  • Pollen or pollution in the air
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive chlorine in a swimming strespool
  • Exercising when you’re sick

With the above triggers in mind, let’s consider some of the best exercises for people suffering with asthma.

best exercises for asthmaBest Exercises for Asthma

Generally, the best exercises for someone suffering with asthma are those that require only short, intermittent bursts of exertion. Click to Tweet.

Also, if you are unaccustomed to regular exercise, please speak with your doctor to choose an exercise an intensity most suited for you. Activities in this category are:[8], [9]

  • Volleyball
  • Gymnastics
  • Baseball & softball
  • Wrestling
  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Downhill skiing
  • Moderate bicycling
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

An exception to the above is swimming. When swimming you’re usually breathing in moist, warm air, so even though you may be breathing more rapidly, swimming is considered one of the best healthy choices for someone with asthma.[10]

Exercises More Likely to Induce an Asthma Attack

Based on the above asthma triggers, some of the activities that are more likely to cause an asthma attack include any sports that involve long periods of exertion (5 to 6 minutes or longer):[11]

  • Soccer
  • Distance running
  • Basketball
  • Field and ice hockey
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowshoeing

Even though these activities are more likely to bring on an asthmatic attack, many people with asthma continue to enjoy these sports and even compete in them. About five percent of Olympic athletes take medication for asthma.[12] The key to participating in these or any physical activity is being aware of your body and following some practical tips.

Practical Tips for Controlling Asthma During Exercise[13]

  • Use an inhaler about 15 minutes prior to exercising.
  • If it’s particularly cold outside, or the pollen count or pollution is high, then exercise indoors.
  • Spend about 5 minutes warming up prior to exercising.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Avoid exercising if you are sick or not feeling well.
  • Know your limits and don’t overdo it.
  • Always carry an inhaler in case you need it.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • Include a cool-down routine after the activity.

Warm-up and cool-down routines usually consist of stretching your muscles. The warm-up slowly brings your breathing and heart rate to the level required by the activity. The cool-down routine brings these back to their resting or normal rates.

If you have an asthmatic attack while exercising, stop the activity and follow the instructions your doctor provided in your asthma action plan.[14]

Regular exercise and staying fit is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Set a goal to work out for at least 30 minutes, four or five days per week. “Avoiding exercise when you have asthma is an old way of thinking,” according to Rachel Taliercio, DO, a lung and allergy specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.[15]

Find an exercise you enjoy and include a friend for optimum pleasure.

What is your healthy asthma and exercise combination?

If you liked this article, then you’ll love these:


Rob_FischerRob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes writing curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, training courses, workshops, and books. Rob has written for numerous churches, for Burlington Northern Railroad, Kaiser Aluminum, and Barton Publishing. He has also trained managers in effective business writing. Rob holds two Master’s degrees, both focused heavily on writing. Rob has published eleven books and serves as an editor and ghostwriter for other authors.



[1] Health.com, “14 Best and Worst Exercises for Asthma,” nd, http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20672105,00.html.
[2] American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, “Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction,” nd, http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/asthma-and-exercise.aspx.
[3] Chris Iliades, MD, “Best exercises for Asthma: Yoga, Swmming, Biking (cont.),” MedicineNet, August 29, 2013, http://www.medicinenet.com/best_exercises_for_asthma_yoga_swimming_biking/views.htm.
[4] Health.com.
[5] Health.com.
[6] Chris Iliades, MD.
[7] Chris Iliades, MD.
[8] Health.com.
[9] Chris Iliades, MD.
[10] Asthma Center, Partners in Healthcare, “Breath of Fresh Air Articles: Chapter 4: Exercise and Asthma,” 2010, http://www.asthma.partners.org/newfiles/BoFAChapter4.html.
[11] Health.com.
[12] Health.com.
[13] Chris Iliades, MD.
[14] WebMD, “Exercise and Asthma,” March 3, 2014, http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/exercising-asthma.
[15] Chris Iliades, MD.

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