Asthma and Exercise: Quick Tips for Managing Asthma During Exercise

Last updated: May 2018

Over the years, I’ve had workouts that range the spectrum, from asthma nirvana, to “what on earth am I doing?”, to how do I actually feel less short of breath after hitting the gym? Given that I’m on other bronchodilator meds, I even failed to pre-medicate for a workout last week somehow (…I was kind of hyper and it was kind of a spontaneous dance workout so I could focus and work, that was meant to be three minutes and lasted twenty!), and was totally fine. Okay maybe not totally fine, and I probably knocked the intensity down a bit, but certainly less symptomatic than when I have to make a mad sprint to a bus that I clearly haven’t medicated for… (Note: I do not recommend skipping pre-medication if your doc recommends it, nor do I recommend mismanaging your time like I do, resulting in nearly missed buses :].)
While exercise induced asthma is relatively predictable, there are still 400 factors at play—that’s how asthma works, it’s kind of just supposed to be a confusing pain in the butt by nature. Weather, humidity, temperature, dust, plants, allergens, intensity, and all the things can make exercising with asthma just kind of unpredictable. Which, I get it, makes it really hard to want to stick to your plan.

So, here’s how I manage my asthma. Remember, your asthma care plan may vary, so talk to your doctor before changing anything up. (Because though I live with crazy lungs, I have no training in that regard.)

Before exercise:

  • Take my rescue inhaler about 15 minutes before exercise, as instructed by my doctor.

During the workout:

    If I’m planning for a longer workout, or if I’m doing a walk outside, I’ll gradually increase my intensity/speed.

  • Take my inhaler as needed during the workout… Now, say it with me “your asthma care plan may vary”. Talk to your doctor for instructions—if you have symptoms, you should stop activity. If my symptoms are mild, I’ll keep going but medicate to keep things that way. (Remember: Not an expert.)
  • If my symptoms get too bothersome or difficult to deal with, I stop the activity and take my inhaler. (Sometimes I’ll resume when I’m feeling better, sometimes I’ll call it quits.)
  • I do not do a lot of outdoor activity in the Winter, because cold air is one of my worst triggers. I have a great face mask that I use for outdoor activities now, but a scarf also works (they’re just kind of not great with glasses, because Fog City).
  • Consider triggers that you may encounter along the way. On my first winter skate this year—near the end of season—I headed out to the river trail to encounter really smoky conditions from a bonfire burning on the trail… That combined with activity, cooler air (and terrible ice quality) lead to a really short skate! Know your environment, respect your body.

After the workout:

  • Gradually decrease the intensity of my workout—cool down.
  • Usually I will take my rescue inhaler to avoid delayed onset symptoms. Sometimes I skip this step—if I’ve been working out outdoors or for longer than 45 minutes, I definitely make this happen (and will sometimes opt to do a pre- and post-workout nebulizer treatment instead… although I haven’t used this method in awhile.
  • Once again, yeah, you got me: check with your doctor—if you don’t experience delayed flare-ups from exercise (symptoms following the “refractory period” I described here about 4-6 hours after exercise), and are asymptomatic, you are probably good to go.

Another consideration for if you have asthma, wear medical ID jewelry—especially during workouts if you have exercise induced asthma, if you’re not going to choose to wear ID all the time. There are tons of styles available that look inconspicuous (just make sure they’re not so inconspicuous that a first responder can’t find them!), or are made for sports, and cost as little as $5-6.

How do you manage your asthma during exercise? Share your tips with the community!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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