Exercising and Staying Active with Asthma

(May 1, 2012)

Staying active and exercising has many benefits to your overall health and wellbeing, but if you have asthma you may feel the need to limit your activity to avoid symptoms. Understanding your symptoms and how to manage them is the first step to creating an asthma management plan to keep you in the game.

Why do I have asthma symptoms when I exercise? When we exercise we breathe harder which causes water loss from our lungs, which cools the lungs’ moist lining. This water loss drops the temperature of our lungs and can cause asthma symptoms. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, a feeling of chest tightness, or shortness of breath. You may experience symptoms once you begin exercising, or soon after it ends.

Follow this checklist from the American Lung Association to help create a plan of action to begin an exercise routine.

Create an Asthma Management Plan

  • Talk with your health care provider. The first step to starting any exercise plan is to talk with your health care provider. Let them know what sports and physical activities you would like to participate in, and the symptoms you experience during exercise. Remember to share any concerns or fears you may have. Together, you can create an asthma management plan that keeps you in the game and not on the sidelines. The Staying Active with Exercise-Induced Asthma Checklist can help guide the conversation with your healthcare provider.
  • Keep medications on hand. Your doctor may recommend that you take your quick-relief medicine prior to activity to help avoid asthma symptoms. Keep your quick-relief medicine (Albuterol) close by in case you have trouble breathing. Stop activity and use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have asthma symptoms. Make sure to take your medications as prescribed. Learn more about the different asthma medicines before you get started.
  • Assess symptoms daily and before exercising. The key to keeping your asthma well controlled is to monitor your symptoms every day. If prescribed by your health care provider, a Peak Flow Meter reading can show signs of asthma symptoms before you feel them. Follow your Asthma Action Plan as directed.

Start Exercising

  • Find the exercise that’s right for you. Consider physical activities that have periods of inactivity such as baseball. Swimming is often a good choice since the warm, moist air may keep symptoms away. When working out in the gym lower the intensity of your training by increasing the number of rest periods between repetitions and machines. If you begin to feel symptoms stop activity immediately and take your quick-relief medication and follow your Asthma Action Plan.
  • Warm up and cool down. Ease your body into physical activity with a long warm up and cool down routine.
  • Exercising indoors. Local gyms will keep you warm during your winter workout, but may increase your risk of being exposed to asthma triggers as well as germs. When choosing a gym, ask what types of cleaners and disinfectants are used since bleach and strong odors from cleaning chemicals can cause asthma symptoms. Make sure the pool area is well ventilated and doesn’t have the strong smell of chlorine. A well ventilated gym will reduce your exposure to mildew, mold and other asthma triggers.
  • Keep your trainer informed. Share the steps on your Asthma Action Plan. The Asthma Action Plan should specify what to do in case of a breathing emergency as well as to make suggestions to modify your activity depending on your peak flow meter readings. It’s important to communicate with your trainer if you need longer warm-up and cool-downs or additional rest periods during activity.
  • Exercising outdoors. Enjoy your favorite winter activities by keeping the following tips in mind.
    • Know your great outdoors. If you plan to move your physical activity outside, scope out the environment first and be aware of any obvious triggers. Look for areas that aren’t close to major highways with increased automobile exhaust or have a high saturation of plant and animal life.
    • Monitor air quality forecasts before heading outside. Air pollution can be very high in the summer, and those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being harmed by air pollution. Keep informed about the air quality outside before beginning outdoor physical activities. Learn more about healthy air and air quality with the Air Quality Index.

Breathing polluted air can seriously harm your health and even shorten your life. State of the Air is a report card on air pollution in communities across the nation. The more you learn, the more you can protect your health and take steps to make our air cleaner and healthier.

Stay Healthy

  • Get a flu vaccine. Remember to get a yearly flu shot. One of the main causes of asthma episodes is a respiratory infection like the flu. Make sure to clean your gym equipment prior to use and wash your hands frequently. Find out more about the flu.
  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit. Visit Freedom From Smoking Online for information to help you, a friend or family member quit smoking.
  • Manage stress. A new year can bring on new stress. Click here for strategies to help manage stress.

Questions about lung health? Call the American Lung Association HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for more information.