A New Year's Resolution – Exercising with Asthma

(January 15, 2013)

Are you making a New Year's resolution to get fit or be healthier in 2013? Topping the list for many Americans is the personal pledge to start (and keep) an exercise regimen for the year. Staying active 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 healthier, new you.

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 and create an asthma-friendly exercise plan.

Step 1: 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 health care provider.
  • Keep your medicine 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 medicines 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 so you can stay active is to monitor your symptoms every day. If prescribed by your health care provider, take a Peak Flow Meter reading before you exercise, which can show signs of asthma symptoms before you feel them. Follow your Asthma Action Plan as directed.

Step 2: Get active.

  • 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. Make sure the pool area is well ventilated and doesn't have the strong smell of chlorine. 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 products can cause asthma symptoms. A well ventilated gym will reduce your exposure to mildew, mold and other asthma triggers.
  • Exercising outdoors.Enjoy your favorite winter activities by keeping the following tips in mind.
    • Cold, dry air can trigger asthma, especially at high altitudes. Loosely wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
    • Get a heads up before heading out. Download the American Lung Association's State of the Air® app to receive air quality forecasts direct on your smartphone. Learn more about how air quality affects everyone, especially those with lung disease at www.lung.org/healthy-air.

Step 3: Stay healthy.

  • Get a flu vaccine. It's not too late to get a flu shot. This is especially important because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting an early and potentially very harsh flu season this year. One of the main causes of asthma episodes is a respiratory infection like the flu. Learn how to protect yourself and your family from 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, which can trigger asthma. Click here for strategies to help manage stress.

Learn more about educational programs or special events in your community visit the

American Lung Association at www.lung.org

Questions about your lung health? Ask an expert.

Call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA or 1-800-586-4872.