Exercise and Asthma

BIDMC Contributor

FEBRUARY 15, 2016

Physical activity and exercise provide important health benefits to people with asthma, from improved heart and lung function to helping reduce the severity of asthma-related attacks. But there’s a catch: people who suffer from asthma — an estimated 300 million according to the World Health Organization — may experience shortness of breath, coughing, tightening of the chest, and wheezing during physical activity and exercise.

Knowing how to manage your asthma is key to maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle. Below are some useful tips to help you control your asthma during exercise.

Before you dive into a new exercise routine:


Talk with your primary care provider or asthma specialist before beginning a new routine. This is a great way to make sure you have a personalized exercise plan that works with your lifestyle and specific asthma history.

  • Know your triggers. If cold air brings on your asthma, exercise indoors or bundle up when you head out into the cold. If pollen is a trigger, exercise indoors when the pollen count is high.
  • Listen to your body. Learn how to monitor your symptoms and lung function so that you’ll recognize when you may be triggering an asthma attack.
  • Have an asthma action plan to provide asthma relief during exercise.
  • Keep your asthma medications handy. Make sure you have appropriate allergy and asthma medications as prescribed by your doctor, and always keep a rescue inhaler nearby.

How to control your asthma while exercising:

Know your limits. It’s important that you gradually build up the amount of exercise you do. Start with 10 minutes a day, and when this becomes easier, increase to 12-15 minutes day, and finally build up to at least 30 minutes a day.

  • Postpone exercise if you have a cold or respiratory infection.
  • Perform warm-up and cool-down exercises to reduce asthma symptoms.
  • Don’t overdo it. Activities that involve prolonged exertion such as running, soccer, cycling, and basketball are more likely to cause exercise-induced asthma.
  • Exercise with others. Team sports or exercises with break time between activities such baseball, football, softball, volleyball, and doubles tennis are less likely to cause asthma symptoms.
  • Think outside the box. Other beneficial activities for people with asthma include yoga, walking, hiking, tai chi, recreational biking, and golfing.
  • Go for a dip. Swimming is a great exercise because the air around pools is moist and warm, and less likely to trigger asthma. However, be aware that excessive chlorine and cold pool water may act as an asthma trigger for some.

Asthma comes with certain challenges, but it shouldn’t limit you from maintaining an active lifestyle. So plan your exercise routine, take a deep breath, and dive on in to a more active lifestyle.

Resources: NIH, AAAAI, AAFA, mayo clinic, and asthma.org.uk

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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