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woman exercising at the gym

How to Stay Fit with Asthma

How to Exercise with Asthma

Exercise is important for everyone for a variety of reasons. Regular exercise helps improve cardiovascular fitness, decreases the risk of certain diseases, and helps maintain healthy bones and muscle mass.

If you have asthma, it should not prevent you from exercising and staying active. However, keep in mind that a few factors affect your ability to safely exercise with asthma. These include: the air quality that you are exercising in, your level of asthma control and the type of exercise you are doing.

It is also helpful to know if you have exercise-induced asthma. It’s not clear why exercise may trigger constriction of the airways and asthma symptoms in some people. One theory is that when you exercise, you often breathe in through the mouth instead of the nose, which may dry the airways leading to irritation.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, people that have exercise-induced asthma often develop typical asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness and coughing within about five to 20 minutes of starting to exercise.

Safety Tips

Whether you have exercise-induced asthma or not, it is still essential to stay active and get regular exercise. Remember, exercise is important for everyone, and that includes people with asthma. However, you may have to take certain precautions to prevent an increase in asthma symptoms.

Consider Your Activity

Although many people with asthma can participant in all types of exercise, certain activities may be better than others. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, sports that have continuous activity, such as long-distancing running, soccer and basketball, may be more challenging for people with asthma. Good alternative choices include walking, hiking and biking.

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Know Your Triggers

Everyone with asthma is different. Some people might have an increase in symptoms with cold weather. In other cases, common allergens such as pollen and mold, may lead to wheezing and coughing.

Knowing your asthma triggers can help you avoid exercising in certain conditions. If exercising outdoors seems to lead to asthma symptoms frequently, you may have to change your workouts and exercise indoors.

Have a Fast-Acting Inhaler Handy

Even if you do not have exercise-induced asthma, you can have a flare-up of symptoms when you workout. It is helpful to keep a fast-acting bronchodilator handy in case you develop symptoms. Common fast-acting bronchodilators include albuterol, Xopenex and Combivent. If exercise seems to trigger asthma symptoms, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend using your inhaler about 30 minutes before you start exercising.

Warm-up and Cool-down Properly

Warming up before and cooling down after exercising is essential for everyone. But if you have asthma, it is even more vital. Warming up allows your body to adjust to the increased activity; it dilates your blood vessels and raises the muscle temperature.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), warming up slowly minimizes the stress to your heart. The AHA recommends warming up for about five to 10 minutes before doing more vigorous activity. They also recommend cooling down after your workout to give your body a few minutes to adjust to the decrease in heart and respiratory rate.

Avoid Exercising Outdoors in Cold Weather

Cold, dry air often triggers asthma symptoms. It can irritate the airways and lead to airway constriction. If you have asthma, you may want to avoid vigorous activities outdoors in cold weather. If you do choose to exercise outdoors in the cold, consider wearing a scarf over your mouth to warm the air, which may decrease the risk of symptoms.

It is also vital to use good judgment when it comes to air quality. If it is very hot and humid or if the pollution level or the pollen count is high, it may be best to avoid exercising outdoors.

Dealing with Asthma Attack Symptoms when Exercising

Exercise is beneficial for most people with asthma. However, it is essential to be aware of the first signs of symptoms. Trying to push through and continuing to exercise can lead to a full-blown asthma attack. Consider the following steps to deal with asthma attack symptoms during exercise:

  • Recognize symptoms: Signs of an asthma attack include chest tightness, coughing and wheezing. If you are exercising, you may already be somewhat short of breath. But if breathlessness feels severe, it may also be asthma-related.
  • Stop activity: If you feel asthma symptoms develop, stop your activity. Continuing to exercise can make an attack become severe.
  • Take your inhaler: When you feel asthma symptoms, take your fast-acting inhaler as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Call 911 if symptoms do not improve: If asthma symptoms become severe, call 911. Severe symptoms include:
    • Significant shortness of breath
    • Blue nails or skin
    • Chest pain
  • Talk with your doctor: If asthma symptoms are developing during exercise, talk with your doctor. You may need to adjust your asthma action plan. In some cases, adding a long-acting bronchodilator or a steroid inhaler may prevent symptoms.

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