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The 4 Rules for Exercising When You Have Asthma

If you have asthma, you might think you can't exercise or push your cardio to the max. However, with the right information and medication, you can learn how to exercise with asthma in a safe way.

Updated April 27, 2022

By Eric Sztejman, MD, Pulmonologist—Virtua Pulmonology 

If you have asthma, you might think it's unsafe to exercise or push your cardio to the point of heavy breathing. Luckily, that’s not true. With the right care and medication, people with asthma can (and should) be as active as anyone else.

What are the symptoms of asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the lung’s airways. When it flares, it can be difficult to breathe.

Asthma symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Wheezing and/or coughing
  • A feeling that you can't continue your current activity

Listen to your body’s triggers

The key to successfully exercising with asthma is knowing your body and listening for triggers. People with asthma can have different triggers, but symptoms are commonly brought on by weather (when it’s very hot or very cold), allergens, upper respiratory illnesses, and, yes, exercise. 

You may have to endure a period of trial and error—noting what makes your symptoms worse—before you and your doctor can determine a safe plan for your fitness routine. But, remember, it can be done.

If you experience asthma symptoms while exercising, you need to do these 4 things:

  1. STOP what you’re doing.
  2. USE your rescue inhaler.
  3. REST until you feel better.
  4. DISCONTINUE the activity that caused these symptoms for the rest of the day.

Most of my patients, even those with severe asthma, can avoid triggering asthma symptoms by using an inhaler 30 minutes before beginning exercise. I, myself, have exercise-induced asthma, and this has long been my strategy. Planning ahead is usually the hardest part.

An asthma diagnosis can come at any time in life

You can have asthma and not know it, developing it later in life. That's why it's important to be aware of the symptoms (listed above) and listen to your body. Some people attribute their symptoms to other causes, like lack of exercise or being overweight. Or, because of the chest discomfort often caused by asthma, they head to a cardiologist.

If you're experiencing asthma symptoms, see your primary care provider for an evaluation. If you do have asthma, your provider can make sure you have the information and medication you need to keep your diagnosis in check. As long as you do, there's no reason why you can’t stay active and exercise regularly, even with asthma.

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