How To Manage Weight Loss When You Have Asthma

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may not be easy when you have asthma. This condition can make it difficult to exercise and stay active, which may lead to weight gain. Chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, and other asthma symptoms can affect your ability to run, swim, or walk long distances, resulting in decreased fitness. On top of that, some people experience coughing during exercise, notes the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

In some cases, physical activity may trigger asthma symptoms. For example, running or jogging in cold, dry weather can cause the airways to narrow and worsen your condition, according to Asthma and Lung UK. Cigarette smoke, pollen, dust, and other environmental factors can further affect breathing during exercise. On the positive side, you may be able to prevent these issues by using an inhaler.

While it's possible to lose weight through diet alone, you should still commit to regular exercise. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that physical activity can improve asthma control in just three months. Over time, it can boost lung function and mental well-being while reducing the need for medications. What's more, regular exercise facilitates weight loss, which may help ease your symptoms. "For both adults and children, asthma is harder to control if you're overweight or obese," said Dr. Andy Whittamore, a primary healthcare provider at Asthma and Lung UK.

Not sure where to start? Try these strategies to lose weight safely and take control of your asthma.

Start with gentle exercises

If you're new to exercise, you may not be able to run or cycle long distances from day one. Vigorous workouts, such as high-intensity interval training, are pretty much out of the question. Your best bet is to start with small steps and work your way up to more challenging activities, says Asthma and Lung UK. Walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are all great choices. However, note that most swimming pools have chlorine added to them, which may trigger allergic reactions and asthma, according to clinical research presented in the European Respiratory Journal.

Resistance training should be safe as long as you don't overdo it. Watch your form and increase the weight gradually to build up your strength. Exercise is Medicine (EIM), a program developed by the American College of Sports Medicine, recommends at least two resistance workouts per week. Complete 10 to 15 reps per set for each exercise, keep the intensity moderate and take a day off between training sessions.

Your fitness regimen should also include cardiovascular training. Choose moderate-intensity activities and break your workouts into shorter sessions if necessary. For example, you could ride your bike to work, go for an afternoon walk, and hit the gym for 30-40 minutes later in the day. To stay safe, avoid outdoor exercise when the weather is cold and during the allergy season. Consider using a bronchodilator or asthma inhaler before starting your workout, as it may help prevent shortness of breath, suggests WebMD.

Eat mindfully and clean up your diet

Eating a balanced diet is just as important as regular exercise when it comes to weight loss. For starters, choose whole, natural foods over processed foods and keep your calories in check. Until a few years ago, it was believed that 1 pound of fat equaled 3,500 calories, but that's just a myth. These numbers vary from person to person and may change as you lose or gain weight, notes the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Additionally, not all calories are created equal. It's one thing to eat 500 calories worth of tuna and baked potatoes, and another thing to get 500 calories from ice cream. "Empty calories come from foods that provide a lot of calories but lack many of the nutrients your body needs," explains Karen Basen-Engquist, a Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

However, healthy foods like raw honey, nuts, seeds, salmon, and olive oil can lead to weight gain, too, when consumed in excess. Like with everything else, moderation is key. Calories matter to some extent, but you shouldn't focus solely on numbers. Instead, fill your plate with whole foods and stop eating before you feel full, suggests Houston Methodist. Pay attention to portion sizes and chew your food thoroughly. Alternatively, track your energy intake and cut 300-500 calories per day. See how your body reacts and adjust your diet accordingly.

Boost your protein intake

As discussed above, calories are not everything. The amount of dietary protein, carbs, and fat is even more important because your body uses these nutrients for fuel. If you're trying to lose weight, start by incorporating more protein into your diet. This macronutrient regulates appetite, metabolism, hormone production, muscle growth, and tissue repair, explains Piedmont Healthcare. When consumed in adequate amounts, it can improve your body composition and speed up fat loss.

High-protein foods increase satiety and curb hunger, making it easier to cut calories. Moreover, protein helps maintain lean mass, keeping your metabolism up while on a diet, according to clinical evidence published in the British Journal of Nutrition. At the same time, it raises your core body temperature, increasing the number of calories burned. To reap the benefits, consume at least 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

For example, a 200-pound person should get approximately 72 to 108 grams of protein each day. Poultry and meat contain 29 to 32 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces, while the same amount of tuna, salmon, or cod provides about 24 grams of protein, as reported by the British Nutrition Foundation. Eggs, dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts are rich in this nutrient, too.

Experiment with intermittent fasting

Some asthma medications can suppress appetite and upset the stomach, making it harder to eat healthfully. Others increase hunger, leading to weight gain, according to WebMD. A good example is the corticosteroid prednisone, which stimulates appetite and affects your metabolism. One way to address these challenges is to try out intermittent fasting.

With this approach, you'll refrain from eating for eight or more hours each day or fast for one or two days per week. If, say, you eat dinner at 8 p.m. and breakfast at 12 p.m. the next day, that's a 16-hour fast. Shortening your eating window can increase fat burning and boost overall health. "Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease, and many cancers," says Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In clinical trials, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve glycemic control and reduce body weight by up to 13%, reports the journal Canadian Family Physician. Other studies found that it may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, suppress inflammation, and regulate appetite, notes a recent review featured in the journal Nutrients. What's more, this dietary pattern may alleviate asthma symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory effects, according to a 2018 study presented in The Journal of Immunology.

Fill up on high-volume foods

Have you noticed how full you feel after eating popcorn, salads, or fresh fruits? These foods are high in water and fiber, which may help suppress hunger. Plus, they're low in calories, making it easier to reduce your energy intake and lose weight. For example, cucumbers and lettuce are 95% water and have roughly 15-17 calories per 3.5 ounces, reports MyFoodData. The same goes for soups, citrus fruits, spinach, kale, berries, and other high-volume foods.

Paula Norris, an Australian dietician, explains that volume eating can curb appetite without increasing your calorie intake. Basically, it's a strategy that allows you to eat more and feel full for longer. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends filling up on soup, stews, fruits, legumes, vegetables, and salads. You could mix spinach or kale into brown rice, snack on veggie sticks, add fruit to yogurt, drink green smoothies between meals, and so on. With this approach, you'll get full faster and stay hydrated while upping your fiber intake.

All in all, losing weight when you have asthma isn't that different from leaning out when you're perfectly healthy. You still need to get active, cut calories, and practice portion control. Also, it's important to choose whole foods whenever possible and meet your nutritional needs. Intermittent fasting and other strategies can bring you closer to your goals, but it's your overall diet and exercise habits that matter most.