Breathe Easy

Medication management ideas, workout tips, and helpful safety advice designed to make living with asthma a little easier.

Stay Safe Working Out with Asthma

Learn the benefits of exercise for asthma control and how to do it safely

Woman using inhaler

Anyone with asthma knows that symptoms can flare up during exercise, but did you know that exercise can actually help your symptoms in the long run?

“When you run, walk, and do other exercise and take deeper breaths, you allow the lower parts of the lung to get better ventilation than you would if you were sedentary,” says Albert A. Rizzo, MD, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association. This, in turn, can help you breathe better.

"Exercise can also help you sleep better at night and keep your weight under control, both of which can keep asthma under control," says Dr. Rizzo. Before you’re able to reap these benefits, it’s important to know how to keep yourself safe during exercise. Follow these tips to get the most out of your workout:

Have an Asthma Action Plan
Once you’re diagnosed with asthma, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your lifestyle and your goals. Working with your doctor to create an asthma action plan can help you decide which symptoms would call for the use of an inhaler, and which symptoms would be better treated by calling your doctor or seeking further medical help, says Dr. Rizzo.

Listen to Your Body
“People need to understand that once they’re diagnosed with asthma, they need to read the signs and symptoms of their body,” says Dr. Rizzo. Pay attention to your breathing patterns when you’re resting, and check in throughout the workout to compare. Coughing that develops during exercise can be a sign that the airways of the lungs are becoming tighter and twitchier, says Dr. Rizzo, which could be followed by shortness of breath and wheezing. If this happens, you’ll want to listen to your body and possibly stop and rest or use an inhaler. Feeling fatigued or lightheaded is a sure sign that it’s time to rest, he says.

Be Mindful of Air Quality
How your asthma reacts to a workout can vary dramatically throughout the day due to air quality, says Dr. Rizzo. For example, you could feel fine working out in the morning when it’s cooler and pollution levels are at their lowest, but doing the same workout later in the day with higher heat and humidity, could cause symptoms to come on much sooner. Paying attention to air quality, which you’ll find in most weather reports, can help you better time or tweak your workout.

Carry a Rescue Inhaler
Even if you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself from exercise-induced asthma, it’s still important to be safe and carry a rescue inhaler. Your asthma action plan will help you determine when it’s appropriate to use the inhaler during a workout. Rescue inhalers (also called preventive bronchodilators) can be used 20 to 30 minutes before a workout to help prevent the onset of symptoms, says Dr. Rizzo.

Choose Activities That are Right for Your Lungs
If long runs and other endurance activities trigger asthma symptoms, it might be a good idea to consider other forms of exercise. Shorter duration activities, such as sprinting and weight training, tend to not cause exercise-induced asthma, says Dr. Rizzo. That’s because when you breathe deeper and faster over an extended period of time, the increased air exchange triggers inflammation in the lungs that can cause an attack. On the other hand, exercises that help you to tune into and slow down your breathing, such as yoga, can have a positive effect. “You become more aware of what your breathing pattern is during yoga, and that’s very good for an asthmatic to understand,” says Dr. Rizzo.