Working Out With Asthma: Best Exercises and Ones to Avoid

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Finding the right exercise regimen is challenging enough for the average person. Factor in the complication of asthma and it can be a recipe for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) if you aren’t selective in the process.

The more you understand your condition and how exercising affects it, the better prepared you’ll be to avoid exercises that can hurt while embracing those that can help.

Is Exercise-Induced Asthma Real?

Anyone can experience that “out of breath” feeling when they have over-exerted themselves. For many people, exercise can easily lead to heavy breathing and an inability to catch a breath.

However, if you have asthma already, you are at risk for experiencing a condition called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) when exercising. In fact, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that 90 percent of people who have asthma will experience EIB while exercising.

What are the Symptoms of EIB?

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of EIB often begin during exercise or a few minutes after you’ve stopped exercising. They may continue for 30 minutes or longer if not treated and include:

  • Chest pain (though this is a rarer side effect)

  • Coughing

  • Fatigue

  • Reduced athletic performance

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tightness in the chest

  • Wheezing

EIB symptoms vary in number and severity from person to person. But there are things you can do to help reduce your risks of experiencing the unpleasant symptoms of EIB when exercising.

The Best Exercises for Asthma Sufferers

Asthma sufferers are better served by warm weather activities or activities that require only short bursts of energy like the following:

  • Baseball

  • Golfing

  • Hiking

  • Leisure biking

  • Swimming

  • Walking

Part of this is the fact they can be done in warm, moist environments that are less likely to aggravate your airways.

Exercises that require a great deal more exertion, like aerobics, often lead to heavy breathing through the mouth, which can cause you to draw dry, cold air into the lung triggering an asthma attack.

Preventing Asthma Attacks While Exercising

Don’t let fear of EIB prevent you from getting the physical exertion you need to optimize your health. Exercise is good for your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Knowing this, it is important to exercise.

But, it’s important to work with your doctor to come up with an exercise plan that will promote better respiratory health for your while enjoying the many other benefits a good workout offers.

One thing your doctor may suggest is using fast-acting asthma medications 10 – 20 minutes before beginning your exercise regimen for the day. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology suggests that taking inhaled short-acting medication before exercising prevents EIB symptoms in up to 90 percent of asthma patients.

There are other things you can do that will help reduce your risks of EIB and asthma attacks resulting from your fitness activities. These are some of the changes you can make that might have a positive impact on your workout experience.

  • Cover your face and mouth with a scarf or face mask while exercising outdoors. This is critical in winter months when the air is dry, crisp, and cold as it helps to hold the warm moist air closer to your mouth, so you breathe that in instead.
  • Drink plenty of water. This helps to prevent your airways from drying out as quickly.
  • Warm up properly before you begin exercising. This light period of exertion helps to reduce the frequency of EIB episodes once you move to the main phase of your exercise regimen.
  • Cool down after exercising. Again, this buffer period seems to help the body adjust without going through the symptoms of EIB during or after exercising.

Additionally, avoid exercising in the elements on days that are exceptionally cold

Exercises to Consider Avoiding If You Have Exercise

You doctor may advise you to avoid these exercises or sports that may exacerbate existing asthma problems:

  • Ice hockey

  • Running

  • Basketball

  • Soccer

  • Cross-country skiing

The key is to stay warm and hydrated while exercising whenever possible to avoid triggering an EIB episode. None of these sports exactly promote that and some of them require far too much aerobic exertion for people who are already using one or more asthma treatment options.

While it may be more difficult to find fun, appropriate exercises if you suffer from asthma, it is certainly not impossible. Following the advice listed above and avoiding certain exercises and exercise conditions let you have your exercise while missing out on the effects of an EIB episode in the aftermath. It’s a good idea to see an allergist, immunologist or internist who has experience in diagnosing and treating asthma to develop a treatment plan to keep you exercising in a safe manner.


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