Tips for Exercising With Asthma

How to Make Sure You Are Prepared to Exercise With Asthma

Exercising with asthma can lead to typical asthma symptoms, such as:

However, exercise is an important part of staying fit. It is important to exercise with asthma and not be inactive. The essential component for exercising with asthma is to know how to exercise safely and prevent exercise asthma problems.

Athletic man with hands on knees catching his breath from running

mixetto / istockphoto

How Does Exercising With Asthma Cause Symptoms?

Your nose normally protects your lungs from many potential asthma triggers. When breathing normally, air enters your lungs through the nose, which warms the air and filters some triggers from getting to the lungs. When you exercise, your body needs more air, and you begin to breathe through your mouth. Your mouth does not warm, humidify, or filter air. As a result, exercising with asthma can increase your risk of trigger exposure.

What Are The Benefits of Exercising with Asthma?

There are a number of benefits when you exercise with asthma, including:

  • Strengthens respiratory muscles
  • Helps maintain weight
  • Psychological benefits
  • Decrease risk of heart disease

Are Some Activities More Or Less Likely To Cause Symptoms?

When you exercise with asthma, some activities are less likely to cause symptoms than others. For example, swimming is an aerobic activity that exposes you to warm and moist air that will not irritate your lungs. Other activities that will generally not lead to symptoms while exercising with asthma include:

  • Biking leisurely
  • Hiking
  • Walking

If team sports are more your thing, you are less likely to develop symptoms while exercising with asthma if you participate in sports that require short bursts of activity, such as:

  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Sprint running

On the other hand, endurance sports are more likely to lead to symptoms. Sports more likely to lead to asthma symptoms, especially if your asthma is not under good control, include:

  • Basketball
  • Field Hockey
  • Long-distance running
  • Soccer

What To Do When Exercising With Asthma

The following steps will help you exercise with asthma no matter what type of exercise you choose:

  1. Always carry your rescue inhaler. You should always have a rescue inhaler close by, but this is even more important when you exercise with asthma. Your rescue inhaler is essential to treat any sudden asthma symptoms that develop.
  2. Monitor your asthma. If your asthma is not under good control, then you probably need to get better control before exercising. Talk with your healthcare provider before beginning to exercise with asthma.
  3. Follow your asthma action plan to safely exercise with asthma. Talk with your healthcare provider about your asthma action plan and how it can support exercising with asthma. If you are not in the green zone, you shouldn't be exercising, as it could make your asthma worse.If you experience symptoms while exercising with asthma, you will use your rescue inhaler to treat the symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also have you use your rescue inhaler prior to exercising so that you may prevent symptoms from occurring.
  4. Warm up and cool down. Avoid sudden changes in your activity that may trigger asthma symptoms. Slowly begin your workout -- don't just walk out the door and begin exercising vigorously. Likewise, when exercising with asthma, don't just suddenly stop exercising. Rather, slowly decrease your effort for a short period before stopping.
  5. Avoid triggers. If you encounter triggers while exercising with asthma, you could develop symptoms. For example, if the air quality is really poor on a particular day, you may be better off exercising indoors. If cold air worsens your asthma, wear a mask or scarf to avoid or decrease cold air getting to your lungs. Avoid parks where the grass has been recently cut if grasses are a trigger.
  6. Stop exercising if you develop symptoms. If you begin to develop symptoms while exercising with asthma, stop exercising, use your rescue inhaler, and follow your asthma action plan. If your symptoms improve, you can slowly begin exercising again.
  7. If your symptoms continue to worsen, consider seeking medical care immediately. If your symptoms don't improve, continue to use your rescue inhaler per your asthma action plan instructions. If you develop any of the following while exercising with asthma, seek medical care immediately:
    Wheezing that occurs while breathing both in and out
  8. Coughing that has become continuous
  9. Difficulty breathing
  10. Tachypnea or breathing very fast
  11. Retractions where your skin is pulled in as you breath
  12. Shortness of breath
  13. Difficulty talking in complete sentences
  14. Becoming pale
  15. Becoming anxious
  16. Blue lips or fingernails (called cyanosis_
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Accessed January 15, 2011. Tips to Remember: Asthma and Exercise
  • American Lung Association. Accessed January 15, 2011. Exercise and Asthma

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.