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Can I Exercise If I Have Asthma?

Runners with exercise-induced asthma run across a bridge.
Some people ask, “Can I exercise with asthma?” The short answer is “yes.”

So Many Exercises, So Little Time.

In this day and age, it can be hard to keep track of all the fitness trends: HIIT, online personal training, even goat yoga (yep, it’s a thing) . It can be even harder to decode which of those exercise regimens are going to work for you, especially if you have asthma. If you’re one of the 20 million Americans who have asthma, read on.

Some people ask, “Can I actually exercise if I have asthma?” The short answer is yes. Fun fact: It’s estimated that 1 in 12 Olympic athletes have asthma. While you may not be an aspiring Olympian, we can provide some guidelines to know what types of exercise work best for asthma sufferers and which ones should be avoided. For those who are unsure if they have asthma, it’s helpful to understand what exactly it is.

Asthma occurs when your bronchial tubes (airways) are permanently inflamed. The airflow to your lungs is then restricted and can cause symptoms like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. You are more susceptible to asthma if you have a family history of it or if you have severe allergies. It’s difficult to perform asthma tests on children under 5, so your doctor may rely on other information to make a diagnosis. Asthma can show up later in life, too, after decades of ingesting fumes, dust, and the like. While there currently is no cure for asthma, it can still be managed so you can lead a life you love. Make an appointment with a board-certified allergist if you’re unsure if you have asthma.

The Best Exercises for Asthma Sufferers

A woman with asthma hikes with her dog.
Hiking (with our without a dog) is a great form of exercise for those with asthma.

Even if you have asthma, even exercise-induced asthma, you can still stay fit and active. Some of the best activities for asthmatics include walking, swimming, biking, and hiking. A moderate to brisk pace is best.

Yoga is considered one of the best activities for asthmatics. The breath control used during yoga can actually reduce the severity of asthma symptoms in some cases (unfortunately, we’re pretty sure that laying on the couch is not a yoga pose) Surprisingly, baseball is also a “home run” (haha, get it?!?) for those with asthma, along with other team sports like football and short track and field events. What do they all have in common? All of these pastimes require shorter bursts of activity with plenty of rest in between. That way, you’ll have a lower chance of triggering your symptoms since you expend less energy doing those activities. So, no worries: you can still hit your 10,000 steps on your Fitbit.

Exercises to Avoid for Asthma Sufferers

People with asthma complete a rowing workout at a Crossfit gym.
If your asthma is acting up, CrossFit is one activity you should avoid.

Your friends may love CrossFit, but it’s exactly the kind of activity asthmatics should avoid when their asthma is acting up. Why? Exercise regimens that require numerous intense bursts of energy and/or continuous effort can easily trigger an asthma attack. This list includes soccer, long-distance running, and basketball. In addition, cold-weather sports such as cross-country skiing or ice hockey should be avoided when you are having any symptoms, as the crisp air is more likely to provoke your symptoms. If you have a passion for these sports, hold up on them until you meet with an allergist to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

Prepare for Every Workout

An Asian woman with asthma stretches before exercise.
For those with asthma, stretching and warming up are extremely important.

Ready to get physical (Now you have the Olivia Newton-John song stuck in your head, don’t you? You’re welcome.)? There are a few tips and tricks to make the most out of your workout. First, always remember to warm up your muscles and your lungs – take time to stretch and loosen yourself up. It’s not worth pulling a muscle simply because you were in a rush to get going. Improving your cardiovascular fitness increases the threshold at which patients with asthma develop symptoms during exercise. You should also not exercise outside when there is a high amount of allergens in the air; try an at-home workout or signing up at a local gym! And finally, remember to always carry your inhaler with you in case of emergencies.

If you or someone you love is unsure if they have asthma, make an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists at one of our five locations.