Can Exercise Really Help To Relieve Symptoms Of Asthma?

Asthma is a medical condition characterized by breathing problems, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness caused by inflamed and swollen airways. For some people, this means dealing with occasional mild bouts of asthma, while for others,an asthma attack can be a severe and sometimes even a life-threatening experience.

Statistics say that about 18.4 million U.S. adults suffer from this respiratory disease, which usually starts during childhood.[1] Flare-ups occur due to a variety of factors, and the most common triggers are pollution and allergens, including dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, or pollen, certain medications, and food additives. Even though asthma is incurable, it can be successfully managed with the help of modern medications and lifestyle changes. Exercising is particularly beneficial, as it can strengthen the lungs and alleviate some of the symptoms.

Exercise your way out of asthma

Contrary to popular belief, exercise is strongly recommended for people with asthma. Even though the idea of exposing your lungs and airways to such exertion seems contradictory to all other methods of treating asthma, experts agree that regular physical activity can have various positive effects on both mental and physical health. Exercise will:

  • Strengthen your breathing muscles and tone your heart
  • Bring oxygen to your bloodstream
  • Increase your energy
  • Boost your immune system
  • Help you maintain your weight

The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from various foreign viruses and bacteria, but an asthmatics’ immune system perceives certain substances and allergens as big threats and activates an exaggerated response, thus triggering an asthma attack. This means that if you improve your immunity, you’ll also reduce the frequency and severity of asthma bouts. Obesity is considered one of the risk factors for asthma,[2] and a number of recent studies have shown that weight loss can significantly improve asthma control.[3] All this indicates that exercise should be included in the treatment of asthma. However, it’s of vital importance to consult your doctor before you start with any exercising regimen, because you need to make sure that all the activities are adapted to your fitness level, as well as to the severity of your asthma. It should be noted that strenuous physical exercise can also trigger asthma symptoms. This condition is known as exercise-induced asthma and it affects almost 90% of asthma sufferers.[4]

What are the best types of physical activity for people with asthma?

Generally speaking, sports that don’t require long periods of strenuous physical effort, such as volleyball or baseball, are a safe bet for asthma sufferers, because they allow you to catch your breath while the ball isn’t in play. Cold, dry air is responsible for the swelling of your airways, and it usually triggers an asthma attack, which is why sports such as ice-skating, hockey, cross-country skiing, or any outdoor activity during the winter aren’t the best option. Still, some people manage to enjoy them without consequence. Indoor activities are better, especially during the cold weather, but they hold another risk – stuffy air full of allergens. Luckily, this problem can be easily sorted out with the help of a reliable air purifier for allergies.

Here are some physical activities that are recommended for asthmatics:

  • Swimming is a sport that is very well tolerated by people with asthma, mainly because it’s practiced either when the weather is warm or in indoor pools, which means that the air is warm and moist. Such an environment agrees well with airways, so the possibility of an asthma attack is reduced. Besides that, swimming is great for all muscles, and it requires certain breathing exercises which can be beneficial for strengthening the lungs and improving their capacity.
  • Yoga has a lot of positive effects on people with asthma. Namely, this ancient practice heavily relies on proper breathing techniques which can do wonders for the respiratory system. These breathing techniques teach you how to breathe through your nose, as that way the air you breathe is filtered, warmed, and moist by the time it reaches your sensitive airways and lungs. Also, various yoga exercises help stretch the torso muscles which results in opening the airways.
  • Walking is a great option for people who can’t practice more demanding activities. It’s suitable for all weather conditions, so you can practically enjoy it all year round. Of course, when temperatures drop, make sure to wear a scarf around your mouth and prevent the cold air from invading your lungs.
  • Running can be good for people with controlled asthma, but only if it’s done on a warm day or on an indoor treadmill. However, as it’s a high-intensity training, you should be very careful with your pacing and stop the minute you feel shortness of breath.
  • Biking is another sport that will fill your bloodstream with much-needed Again, the same measures of precaution apply as for running. A stationary bike is an excellent solution if you always want to be able to exercise regardless of the weather conditions.

How to exercise safely?

One of the most important things to bear in mind before you start exercising is that you should stick to the exercise plan that your doctor suggested. Always havean inhaler with you in case your symptoms flare up. When it comes to your asthma medications, you should take them 15 minutes before your training. Warming up and stretching exercises are necessary before any physical activity,because that way you’ll prepare your body for all the exertion that it will have to endure, and minimize the risk of sustaining various injuries.[5] If you have a cold or some kind of respiratory infection, either take a few days off or scale down your workout routine until you feel better. Finally, if you haven’t exercised for a long time, allow your body to adjust to the new regimen, and start by gradually increasing your physical activity.

Exercising is not only allowed for people with asthma, it’s actually highly recommended because it can significantly improve your overall health and quality of life, as well as help alleviate the symptoms of this respiratory condition.

exercise and asthma

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About The Author:

Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition, and has been working as a personal trainer for three years. She aims to help all her clients set the right goals, and find the best way to achieve them. You can read more from her at
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