Exercise is important to maintaining a strong, healthy body—even for people with asthma. Some people experience asthma symptoms that are triggered during exercise, which can make the path toward health a little harder. This is called "exercise-induced bronchoconstriction" or EIB—also known as exercise-induced asthma. Trying to exercise can feel almost hopeless when you're struggling to breathe. However, with proper management, prevention and modifications, even people with EIB should be able to exercise their way to better health.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways of the lungs. Basically, your lungs are in a constant state of inflammation and are also sensitive to "triggers" such as mold, air pollution, pet dander, dust mites, chemicals or stress. When these triggers trip the switch with your lungs, they can get even more swollen, making it hard for air to get in. This is an "asthma attack." For people with exercise-induced asthma, or EIB, the rapid inhalation of cool, dry air through the mouth during exercise can cause asthma symptoms to start.

With EIB, it can feel discouraging when you're actually in good physical condition but you cough and wheeze after a long run or even short sprint. But, don't let this discourage you. Exercise is important for lung health. The Surgeon General recommends at least 150 minutes a week.

What can a person with EIB do? 

If you have trouble breathing during exercise, talk to your healthcare provider. There are a treatments and other strategies to keep you active and healthy. There are a number of modifications that people with EIB can do to lower their chances of experiencing asthma symptoms:

  • Properly warm up and stretch for 6 to 10 minutes. For the less than enthused about exercise, it can feel like a waste of time going through the motions when it doesn't feel like it offers any benefit, but stretching and warming up are vital to getting a good work out in for a lot of reasons. For one, it helps wake up the body and gets blood moving to the muscles you're about to use heavily. For another, it helps prevent injury by loosening up joints and muscles. Cooling down has less apparent benefits as opposed to warming up, but it does help to gradually bring down your heart rate and breathing to a normal level.
  • Monitor triggers and your breathing. The unfortunate reality of having EIB is that there are a lot more conditions and elements to take into consideration when it comes to your breathing, such as: Making sure you breathe through your nose to warm and humidify the air, covering your nose and mouth in cool, dry conditions and avoiding exercise on high air pollution days while monitoring the air for pollen and mold counts if you have respiratory allergies that trigger your asthma.
  • Try a different workout. Running seems to bother your EIB? It's not surprising. A lot of people with EIB find themselves triggered by constant movement, like long distance activities such as running or soccer. Instead, try sports or activities that use short bursts of exercise like baseball, biking or swimming, or choose exercises in a warm, humid environment—exactly what your lungs love.
  • Pre-medicate as instructed by your healthcare provider to control symptoms and know your limits. It goes without saying, but if you have asthma symptoms daily, it could be a sign that your asthma is not well-controlled. Track and record when you have them and how often, use medication as indicated in your asthma action plan and follow-up with your healthcare provider. If your doctor agrees, make sure to pre-medicate before going on that jog. It also goes without saying, but there are just some days that are going to be better than others. Even if you're doing everything right, things won't always be smooth—know your limits, listen to your body and be safe. Remember, good health is a journey, not a race.

Learn more about managing asthma and its triggers.

Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.

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