Staying Active with Asthma

(March 12, 2013)

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 is the first step 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, cooling the lungs’ moist lining. This water loss drops the temperature of our lungs and can cause asthma symptoms. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, 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. Talk with your health care provider before starting a new activity or exercise. Let them know what sports and physical activities you would like to participate in, the symptoms you experience during exercise and any concerns or fears you may have. Together you can create an Asthma Action Plan that keeps you in the game and not on the sidelines.
  • 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 with good technique.

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. If working out in the gym, lower the intensity of your training by increasing the number of rest periods between repetitions. If you begin to feel symptoms stop activity immediately, 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. 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.
  • Exercising 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.

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

The Enhancing Asthma Care Project in Illinois is supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois and lead by the American Lung Association of Greater Chicago. This joint initiative aims to work with 15 clinics that serve high-risk populations to improve pediatric asthma care to an estimated 30,000 children.