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The Right Types of Exercise for People With Asthma

Daily exercise, overall, is a healthy lifestyle choice for almost everyone, including people with asthma. There are many benefits to being active. But when you have asthma, some types of exercise may be better tolerated than others.

This post will review the many benefits of exercise, along with some tips for getting the most out of exercise when you have asthma.

General benefits of exercise

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, from health.gov tells us that physical activity has immediate health benefits.1 This can happen even with short bursts of activity, although experts recommend regular activity throughout the day.

Some of these immediate benefits include:1

  • Strengthens the heart and improves circulation
  • Elevates mood
  • Improves quality of sleep
  • Stabilizes blood sugar levels

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of long-term exercise in specific age groups (because asthma affects all ages).2

Children

Physical activity in kids can:

Adults

Besides the same benefits enjoyed by kids, for adults the big bonus to exercise is prevention. Regular physical activity can:

  • Help prevent 8 types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung)
  • Reduce the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Help prevent heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

In addition, exercise improves physical function by promoting strong bones and muscles and raises your overall quality of life.3

Older adults

Besides all the benefits already mentioned, in older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls. Since falls are a major cause of disability in older adults, this is crucial.

Another long-term benefit of exercise for all age groups is that it helps people maintain a healthy weight. With two-thirds of the people in the U.S. being overweight, that alone is a huge benefit.

Health Benefits of Exercise for People with Asthma

While regular exercise can improve your overall health, it can also reduce your asthma symptoms in these important ways:3

  • Improves how well your lungs work. This helps you have more stamina and feel less breathless.
  • Boosts your immune system function. This means your asthma will be much less likely to be triggered by coughs and colds.
  • Supports healthy weight loss. That helps you breathe easier, have more energy and reduces asthma attacks.
  • Releases hormones called endorphins. These “feel-good” chemicals in your brain can lift your mood.

How to exercise with asthma

Now you know the many positive benefits of exercise for people with asthma. So, you also know that you can’t use your asthma as an excuse not to exercise, right?

So, let’s talk about how you can build more activity into your everyday life. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.
  2. Park in the back of the lot, instead of right by the door.
  3. Walk to your mailbox (or the store), instead of driving, and then include a walk around the block.
  4. Walk your dog instead of putting him or her out in your fenced backyard.
  5. Dance to the music you hear on the radio.
  6. Get active in the garden.

Once you get started, I’m sure you’ll think of more ways to get active!

The best kinds of exercise when you have asthma

Let me begin by saying that the best kind of exercise is the kind you’ll actually do. For example, if you heard that yoga is great for the mind, body and spirit (it really is!), but you find it boring, it might be hard to build it into your regular routine. You’ll find a million reasons not to. On the other hand, if you love to dance, you’ll find lots of opportunities to engage in that activity. Or the reverse might be true.

Here are some general recommendations, though, for the types of activities that many people with asthma can and cannot tolerate well:3,4

YES:

  • Activities that involve short, intermittent periods of exertion. Think of sports like volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, and wrestling. Or perhaps strength training, yoga, tai chi or dance fitness classes.

MAYBE NO:

  • Sports that require sustained exertion. Distance running, basketball, etc. might not be as well tolerated.
  • Cold weather sports. Sports like ice skating, skiing and ice hockey can be difficult because breathing in cold, dry air is an asthma trigger for some people.
  • Water sports. Warm, moist air can make activity easier to tolerate for some people, although this might also be a trigger in others.

Final considerations for exercising with asthma

The bottom line is that if your asthma is well-controlled, there is no reason to limit your choice of exercise just because you have asthma. Listen to your body and start out slow if you haven’t been active. Be sure to be following your medication plan and always have your rescue inhaler close by when exercising, just in case you need it.

There are many people who have asthma who are perfectly able to tolerate many different types of exercise, in some cases even extreme sports. Plus, there are many elite-level athletes with asthma, from football players to Olympic track and swimming stars and many more.

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

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. Published in 2018. Accessed October 2019.
  2. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Top 10 things to know about the second edition of the physical activity guidelines for Americans. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things/. Accessed October 2019.
  3. Asthma UK. Getting active when you have asthma. https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/living-with-asthma/exercise-and-activities/. Accessed October 2019.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Exercise & asthma. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/8955-exercise--asthma. Accessed October 2019.

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