12 Tips for Safely Running With Asthma

If you want to run for exercise, it may be inspiring to hear that many professional athletes have asthma. While asthma causes symptoms that challenge breathing, you can participate in any activity as long as you manage your asthma symptoms, notes the American Lung Association. In fact, regularly running or engaging in other types of exercise can improve the amount of oxygen your body can use, as well as your overall health.

First and foremost, it's important to get the all-clear from your healthcare provider before running and to listen to your body when you're out on runs. This goes for anyone with asthma, but especially those with exercise-induced asthma, who can experience dangerous wheezing and chest tightness when running.

Safely running with asthma also takes a little awareness of running conditions, as issues such as air quality and temperature may affect your asthma symptoms.

Tips for Running With Asthma

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

How Running Benefits Asthma

You might be drawn to any of a number of aspects of running. Some like that it allows them to exercise outdoors with others; others feel it helps them focus on themselves and clear their head. Still others love the endorphin rush and positive feelings it produces.

Running is a type of exercise that can also help you achieve several physical health benefits, including building endurance and helping prevent unhealthy weight gain. These outcomes are beneficial to anyone, particularly if you have asthma.

Adults and children who have asthma can improve aerobic fitness, achieve better asthma control, and have an improved quality of life by participating in routine exercise.

If you are enthusiastic about running, there are good reasons to follow your interest. And if you're hesitant, note that research shows that the prevalence of asthma among recreational and elite athletes is at least as high, if not higher, than the prevalence of asthma among non-athletes.

Asthma Attack Triggers When Running

That said, concerns about developing asthma symptoms while running are real and must be considered.

With exercise-induced asthma, it's obviously the activity itself that triggers bronchoconstriction. In other cases, environmental factors are at play:

  • Running in cold weather can induce edema (swelling and fluid) in the lungs, as well as bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the airways) and sudden bronchospasm.
  • Pollution and allergens like pollen in the air can provoke inflammation, which partially blocks airway openings in the lungs.

These physiological responses make it hard for enough air to get into your airways when you breathe. As a result, you can feel chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath while running, and your oxygen level may become dangerously low.
As such, it's a good idea to participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program that includes guidance, supervision, and education about your asthma before you begin running on your own.

Smart Strategies

If you want to run regularly or occasionally, it's important that you do so with your asthma in mind. You can take a few precautions and plan ahead so that your run will be safe and beneficial for you.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider First

It's worth repeating that you should talk to your healthcare provider before you start running.

In addition to making sure that your asthma is under good control before you take on such a physically demanding activity, they can help guide you as to how to ramp up your exercise.

Follow an Asthma Action Plan

You can also talk to your healthcare provider about an action plan that helps you recognize the early signs of an impending asthma attack and signals that may help guide when you take a run, and when you don't.

These plans are divided into three sections: green (indicating good asthma control), yellow (indicating worsening asthma), and red (indicating a medical alert). Information on symptoms to look out for and what to do about them in each situation is included.

Quit Smoking

Smoking causes lung disease and it worsens asthma. If you smoke, your endurance and your ability to withstand the demands of running will be reduced. Smoking can increase your risk of exhaustion and/or asthma attacks while running.

Always Carry Your Rescue Inhaler

It's important to have your inhaler with you when you're running, whether you tend to use it often or not. If you experience symptoms while exercising, you will need to use it right away.

Run When Pollen Counts Are Low

Either don't run or only go for a short run on days when pollen counts are high. It's also a good idea to avoid windy days because gusts blow particles around, increasing your exposure to asthma triggers.

Head Out After It Rains

Rain washes away many airborne allergens, and pollen counts are lowest following a rainstorm.

Check the Weather

If it's cold out, consider running indoors on a track or treadmill.

Rainy, wet, warm, cloudy, and windless days are best for running with asthma.

Consider a Protective Mask

Wearing a protective mask while you run may decrease your exposure to pollen.

If you want to run outside when it's cold, you can also wear a mask or scarf to prevent too much cold air from getting into your lungs.

Warm-Up and Cool Down

Slowly begin your workout with a warmup—don't just walk out the door and begin exercising vigorously. Likewise, don't suddenly stop exercising. Instead, slowly decrease your effort for a short period before transitioning to a cool-down.

Shower After Running

To reduce symptoms that might prevent you from feeling up to a run tomorrow (or could otherwise impact your day), wash off after taking a run to strip away any allergens you picked up while you were out that might otherwise settle in your home. It may help to leave your clothes in the laundry room and brush off your shoes as well.

A shower also provides warm, moist air that can be good for your lungs after running.

Monitor Your Asthma

If your asthma worsens, you may need to take a break from running until you achieve better control with medication adjustments or other lifestyle adjustments. Speak with your healthcare provider about what you are experiencing.

Know Your Limits

Running is a strenuous activity that's more likely to trigger your asthma than other activities. Start slow and be mindful of just how far and how fast you can go.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it normal to struggle to breathe when running?

    Yes, it is normal to struggle to breathe when running. Running and other strenuous activities cause your muscles and respiratory system to work harder than usual. As a result, you require more oxygen to fuel your body. You also expel carbon dioxide at a faster rate. This can make people who are not used to running feel out of breath.

    You can build up stamina with regular runs. Start slow, focus on your breathing, and slowly increase time, distance, and speed.

  • Can you run if you have asthma?

    Yes, people with asthma can run, but you will want to take a few precautions. Asthma symptoms can make breathing challenging. Before you embark on a running program, talk to your doctor to make sure your asthma is controlled and that you have a plan in case running triggers an asthma attack. 

  • What should you do if running causes an asthma attack?

    If you have asthma, you should always carry your rapid-acting rescue inhaler with you when you run.

    Taking asthma maintenance medications and managing environmental allergies can help to prevent asthma attacks while running. Be alert for conditions that may trigger your asthma, such as cold air, pollution, and allergens.

8 Sources
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.
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  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) definition.

  3. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Asthma and Exercise.

  4. Yeh HP, Stone JA, Churchill SM, Brymer E, Davids K. Physical and Emotional Benefits of Different Exercise Environments Designed for Treadmill Running. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(7) July 11.doi:10.3390/ijerph14070752

  5. Lang JE. The impact of exercise on asthma. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019;19(2):118-125.doi:10.1097/ACI.0000000000000510

  6. Näsman A, Irewall T, Hållmarker U, Lindberg A, Stenfors N. Asthma and asthma medication are common among recreational athletes participating in endurance sport competitions. Can Respir J. 2018;2018:3238546.doi:10.1155/2018/3238546

  7. Endre L. [Physical exercise and bronchial asthma]. Orv Hetil. 2016;157(26):1019-27.doi:10.1556/650.2016.30449

  8. Kirkby S, Rossetti A, Hayes D, et al. Benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation in pediatric asthma. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2018;53(8):1014-1017.doi:10.1002/ppul.24041

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.