How To Exercise When You Have Asthma

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in every 12 Americans have asthma, with numbers increasing annually. The Mayo Clinic defines asthma as a critical condition characterized by narrow and swollen airways, making breathing difficult. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about 3,500 people die from asthma annually. Half of all people living with asthma have a minimum of one asthma attack per year, with children more susceptible to these attacks than adults.

For many people living with asthma, certain exercises can prove challenging. WebMD notes that some exercises trigger asthma symptoms, resulting in a condition called "exercise-induced bronchoconstriction." However, a 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports notes that regular exercise improves asthma control and reduces the risk of sudden attacks. Knowing which exercises are asthma friendly can be tricky due to all the conflicting information out there. Here is how to exercise safely when you have asthma.

The best exercises for those with asthma

People with asthma who exercise regularly can increase their endurance, improve lung capacity, and reduce inflammation of the airways (via Healthline). One such exercise that may be safe for those with asthma is yoga. Daily yoga poses may not treat asthma clinically, but scores of testimonies suggest that they can increase lung capacity, according to MedicalNewsToday.

Swimming is another recommended sport for people with asthma. A 1992 study published in the journal Sports Medicine notes that swimming causes fewer attacks than other sports. The study attributes it to the warm, humid air usually found in a swimming environment, which can potentially reduce respiratory heat loss. However, the source adds that there's no conclusive evidence backing the claim that swimming can reduce the severity of asthmatic symptoms.

2015 study published in the European Respiratory Journal recommends aerobic exercises, like walking and cycling, for people with asthma.

Tips for exercising with asthma

While consistent physical activities can improve the quality of life, there's no doubt that some people with asthma may experience symptoms when they engage in physically demanding exercises. The American Lung Association calls this exercise-induced asthma. It also advises people with asthma to involve their doctors when choosing their workout routines. Ultimately, your doctor can be the best person to tell you which exercises work best for your fitness routine.

People with asthma should warm up before their main session to prepare safely. You should also include cool-down periods in your routines and avoid exercising in poor-quality weather conditions, per the American Lung Association. This precaution is reiterated by the Cleveland Clinic, which advises asthmatics to consider exercises that demand short bursts of energy rather than others that require heavy, long-term endurance.

According to WebMD, certain conditions and provisions can reduce the risk of exercise-induced workouts. They include exercising indoors when the weather is cold. The source also advises against exercising when you have a viral infection, like a cold or the flu. You can also talk to your doctor about short-acting pre-exercise medication like beta-agonists, which can help open airways when inhaled before a workout (via Mayo Clinic).