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Can I Still Play Sports With Asthma?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2024 | Last updated: June 2024

If you have asthma, you may worry about your ability to play sports. Exercise is important for your overall health, so do not let your asthma symptoms stop you.1-4

Playing sports with asthma is possible. The key is to get your asthma under control and avoid common asthma triggers. You may want to opt for activities that require short bursts of energy rather than extreme or endurance sports.1-4

If asthma limits your ability to play sports, you may need to review when or where you exercise. It is also good to talk to your doctor so they can help you better control symptoms as needed.1-4

Regular exercise can improve health

Many Olympians and elite athletes have asthma. So, do not quit any sport or activity just because of your asthma.1

Regular exercise can improve your health in many ways, such as:2,3

  • Improving lung function
  • Increasing blood flow to the lungs and heart
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Improving mental health
  • Reducing stress
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Improving your quality of life

People who exercise have more ability to pull oxygen from the lungs and into the blood that feeds the muscles. This gives them energy and helps keep them healthy.1,3

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What types of sports are best for people with asthma?

Some activities are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms, such as low-impact exercise or sports with short bursts of activity. Examples include:3,4

  • Volleyball
  • Baseball
  • Golfing
  • Gymnastics
  • Leisure bike riding
  • Hiking
  • Walking

Activities that increase heart rate or keep you moving fast for an extended period can be harder to manage. Endurance or cold-weather sports also often trigger asthma symptoms. Some examples of activity that may be more difficult if you have asthma are:3,4

  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Ice hockey or ice skating
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Long-distance running

You should consult with your doctor or allergist before starting a new sport or exercise program. It is smart to pace yourself, monitor any signs of an asthma attack, and take a break when you need it. You can likely participate in any form of exercise if you are strategic in how you prepare before and manage your symptoms during the activity.2

How do I avoid exercise-induced asthma symptoms?

Even if you have asthma, it is safe to participate in most sports. But you may need to take certain precautions, including taking medicine before you exercise.1-4

  • Keep your inhaler handy for as-needed use, or use it at the prescribed time.
  • Begin with a warm-up for 15 to 20 minutes. The warm-up should be fairly vigorous. Ways to warm up include:
    • Briskly walking faster than 3 miles per hour
    • Treading water or swimming a few laps
    • Bicycling 5 to 9 miles per hour
    • Doing high-intensity intervals
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf in cold temperatures.
  • Limit exercise when air quality is poor to limit your exposure to allergens and irritants.
  • Stay hydrated and drink enough water.
  • Remember to take a few minutes to cool down after an activity.

If you start to have pain or a tight feeling in your chest:1-4

  • Stop the activity.
  • Use your quick-relief inhaler as directed.
  • Sit down and try to relax.

Tips to manage sports with asthma

If you have asthma, be sure to carry your quick-relief inhaler with you. You may want to use it 10 to 20 minutes before exercise to prevent symptoms.2-4

More severe or chronic asthma may require a daily controller medicine. This type of medicine reduces airway inflammation and sensitivity.2-4

If your child plays sports, discuss your child’s condition with the coach. Be sure to let the coach know what triggers your child’s asthma, the medicines they are on, and when they should take their medicine. If asthma symptoms flare up, your child will need quick and easy access to their rescue inhaler.1-4

Exercise has many benefits, even if you have asthma. Do not let asthma deter you from trying out for a school sport or being active as an adult. With the right preparation, you should be able to participate in most activities.1-4