The 4 Rules for Exercising When You Have Asthma - Virtua Article

The 4 Rules for Exercising When You Have Asthma

By , Pulmonologist—Virtua Pulmonology 
Director, Critical Care—Virtua Marlton

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

Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the lung’s airways, and when it flares, it can become 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—I call it “listening for triggers.” Different 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 these 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

Another word of caution: You can have asthma and not know it, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms (listed above) and, again, “listen” to your body. Some people attribute their symptoms to other causes, like being “out of shape.” Or, because of the chest discomfort often caused by asthma, they head to a cardiologist.

This happened recently with one of my patients. He was a swimmer on his college team, but he was noticing more and more chest tightness as he swam laps. He was tested by a cardiologist, and when his heart proved healthy, he came to me. Today, he uses his inhaler regularly, and he’s back in the pool and able to do the workouts he’s always enjoyed.

Talk to your doctor to make sure you have the information and medication you need to keep your diagnosis in check. As long as you do, there should be no reason you can’t stay active and exercise regularly, even with asthma.

Updated December 18, 2018

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