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Exercising With Asthma: How To Train Safely With A Lung Condition

Cyclist using asthma inhaler while riding a bicycle

If you suffer from asthma, you’ll know how difficult it can often be to catch your breath during physical activity. The fear of triggering an asthma attack may even cause you to avoid exercise altogether. But did you know that regular exercise can actually help improve your asthma symptoms? It’s true! 

However, it’s important to approach exercise cautiously and take certain measures to ensure you’re training safely. In this blog, we’ll explore the benefits of exercising with asthma, as well as top tips to help you train effectively while minimising your risk of triggering an attack. 

Can exercise improve asthma and other lung conditions? 

If you’re living with asthma or another respiratory condition, the thought of exercising may be quite daunting when even walking up the stairs leaves you breathless.

But asthma doesn’t need to limit what you can do. In fact, exercise is important for lung function and overall health.

Of course, the way you approach exercise depends on the severity of your condition, and you should always follow advice from your doctor — this pharmacist’s guide to managing asthma suggests that asthma is treated by a combination of prevention and cure, so never substitute your inhalers for exercise.

Having said that, alongside a good management plan, some types of exercise can reduce or prevent asthma symptoms. They work by making your lungs stronger without worsening inflammation. Here are a few benefits of exercising regularly with asthma:

Increased endurance

Over time, working out can help your airways build up a tolerance to exercise. This makes it easier for your lungs to perform activities that usually make you out of breath.

When you exercise, your heart and lungs work harder to deliver oxygen to your muscles, which can help strengthen these essential organs over time. 

When you first start exercising, you might only be able to do a short 20-minute workout, but the more you train the longer you’ll be able to keep going.

By gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts, you can build up your endurance and feel more confident in your ability to tackle challenging physical activities. 

Better breathing technique

By incorporating specific breathing exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing or pursed lip breathing into your workouts, you can help strengthen your respiratory muscles and improve your overall breathing technique. This will make exercise more enjoyable and help you better manage your breathing day to day.

Over time, these techniques can help you feel more confident and in control of your breathing during exercise, allowing you to push yourself harder and achieve greater levels of fitness.

Plus, if you do experience an asthma attack, you can more quickly gain control of your breathing. You can use a fitness tracker such as an Apple Watch to track your recovery time, which is a good indicator of how well your fitness levels are improving.

Improved lung capacity

The more you work out, the more your lungs get used to consuming oxygen. This decreases how hard your body must work to breathe during exercise and on a daily basis.

By challenging your lungs, you may see a reduction in the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms, as well as an increase in your ability to perform physical activities without feeling out of breath or fatigued. 

By incorporating regular aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, into your routine, you can help build your lung capacity and improve your overall respiratory health. That could mean reaching for your blue inhaler a little less often! 

How to exercise safely as an asthma sufferer

If you’ve got asthma, then exercise isn’t completely out of the question. That said, you do need to do so carefully and steadily, and consider the potential risks — especially if you’re new to exercise or not used to physical exertion. 

Here are 4 ways of exercising safely as an asthma sufferer: 

Use your preventer inhaler before you exercise

If your asthma is triggered by exercise, it’s a good idea to use your preventer inhaler 10-15 minutes before you work out. Doing this can reduce the inflammation and sensitivity of your airways, which prevents your symptoms from occurring.

However, you should ensure you take your preventer inhaler with you every day anyway if it’s part of your asthma management routine.

Bring your reliever inhaler with you

You never know when an asthma attack might occur, and it’s far better to be safe than sorry. Always keep your reliever inhaler in your gym bag or at least somewhere you can access it quickly if you need to. 

If you’re out for a run it may be a little inconvenient to hold your inhaler in your hand, but you can keep it in a lightweight running rucksack, along with a water bottle and any other essentials you may need. If you feel like your chest is becoming too tight, stop, sit down, and take some time to recover.

Always warm up and cool down before working out

This piece of advice applies to anyone working out — whether you’re going for a light job or doing some intense weight training at the gym — but it’s especially vital for asthma sufferers.

Before exercising, prepare your body by warming up with some light cardio and stretches. Afterwards, slowly reduce the intensity of the activity to get your breathing back to a normal level. This will help prevent injury and enable you to manage your breathing effectively. 

Limit exercise when you’re feeling unwell

A chesty cough, cold, or flu can aggravate asthma symptoms by making your chest feel tight. It’s best to allow yourself to fully recover before exercising.

Not only will this lower your risk of an asthma attack, but you’ll have a much better workout when you’re feeling better. If you’re feeling under the weather, avoid any strenuous exercise such as running, cycling or weight training and focus on getting lots of rest. If you want to get active, go for a brisk(ish) walk, but be careful not to overdo it. 

What exercises are best for people with asthma?

Exercising with asthma shouldn’t be limiting and by paying close attention to your body, you can enjoy most sports and reduce any symptoms that you may experience while exercising. Having said that, if you want to specifically improve your condition there are a few exercises that can help, such as:

  • Swimming: Swimming is a great exercise for improving your breathing. Being in a warm, moist environment rather than breathing in dry air (like a gym with air conditioning) can be much better for your lungs.
  • Walking: If you’re new to exercise but want to get moving, walking is a low-intensity activity that’s gentle on the body, which makes it easier to control breathing. Be mindful when walking outside in cold weather though, as a drop in temperature can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Sports with short bursts of activity: High-intensity interval training (HIIT), football (soccer), and basketball are all activities that involve intermittent breaks, which are gentler on the lungs and give you a chance to recover between bursts of activity. 

Exercising with asthma may seem challenging, but it’s certainly possible with the right precautions and techniques. By working closely with your doctor and taking the necessary steps to manage your asthma, you can train safely and reap the many benefits that exercise has to offer.