Stay active, stay healthy: how to do sport when having asthma?

If you have asthma, you might be worried about whether or not you can exercise, and don’t worry, you’re not alone. We know that when you have asthma sometimes just walking to the shop can make you feel out of breath, so we totally get why exercise might have always felt like something you could never do.  Equally, you might be someone who has always exercised a lot but have recently been diagnosed with asthma and are worried that it might hinder your performance or stop you from doing the activities you love. 

Is Sport Good for Asthma? 

Just a few minutes of exercise a day can help improve your asthma symptoms and make you feel better day by day. So, it’s time to stop putting it off! We can all be guilty of postponing things ‘until next week’ when really we know that week is never going to come. Maybe you or one of your friends have been convincing yourself that your asthma is the thing stopping you from exercising… but what you’ve really been doing is preventing yourself from improving your asthma symptoms.

Keep reading and we’ll take you through why sport is good for asthma, what kinds of exercise are good for asthma, and how to get started. 

Why Sport is Good for Asthma

As we all know, exercise is good for us both physically and mentally. Regularly exercising helps to strengthen muscles and bones, is great for cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure, and releases endorphins that make you feel good. However, if you have asthma, you might worry that sport is harder for people with asthma or that exercise could trigger an asthma attack. These are all completely understandable concerns, but the good news? Sport is actually good for people with asthma and can help to reduce asthma symptoms. Keep reading and we’ll tell you why!

You might be reading this and thinking, this doesn’t apply to me because I have exercise-induced asthma so I should avoid exercise, right? Well, actually that’s not true. Although exercise-induced asthma is the condition where exercise causes the airways to narrow which can lead to coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and all of the other unpleasant symptoms that asthma can produce, sports can still be highly beneficial to people with this condition. The key here is making sure that you both stick to the medication that your doctor prescribes, for example, an inhaler, and that you choose the right kind of sport. But we’ll go into a bit more detail about the types of sports that are good for asthma later. Before we get to that let’s go through some of the reasons exercising can improve your symptoms when you have asthma. 

Regular exercise can: 

  1. Strengthen your lung muscles: this helps your lungs function more efficiently, which can increase the control your body has over asthma. The stronger your respiratory muscles are, the better they will be at responding in cases of an asthma attack. 
  2. Reduce inflammation: Asthma is characterised by inflammation in the airways causing an asthma attack. Exercise has been shown to improve the body’s anti-inflammatory response, so it may help reduce the occurrence of asthma attacks when this is the cause.  
  3. Improve blood flow: This may not sound related to asthma at first, but the lungs and heart work together. The main function of the lungs is to bring oxygen into the body and the blood transports that oxygen around to the organs that need it. So, the better the blood flows around your body, the more efficiently it transports oxygen meaning your lungs don’t have to work as hard. Great news for everybody whether you have asthma or not! 
  4. Help you to maintain a healthy weight: Exercise helps to prevent obesity, which again doesn’t immediately sound related to asthma, but it can have a significant impact. It has been shown that obesity causes more frequent and severe symptoms of asthma so playing sports regularly can help you to avoid this.

As we’ve already mentioned, there are several other benefits playing sports regularly can have on your health and these advantages also apply to people with asthma, further adding why sport is good for you. Now we’ve covered why sport is good for people with asthma, let’s get on to how to exercise when you have asthma and what types of sports are good for asthma. 

What Types of Sports Are Good for Asthma

One of the main things you should consider when it comes to exercising with asthma is the kind of sport you do. It’s important to note that having asthma doesn’t mean you can’t do a particular exercise, and just because we haven’t mentioned it on our list doesn’t mean that it’s off the table. 

There are some sports that may not be good  for asthma because they are very intense on your lungs, don’t allow enough resting time, or are done in climates that can make asthma symptoms worse; for example, cross fit, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, and long-distance running are all sports that may not be a good idea if you have asthma as they could make your symptoms worse or cause an asthma attack. 

Of course, every person is different so if you want to try a sport that isn’t listed here or one that you are worried about being too intense, it’s best to speak to your doctor and they can provide you with specialist advice. In general, the best sports for people with asthma are low to moderate-intensity endurance sports. Some examples include:

    • Walking/ hiking: walking can be as easy or as difficult as you like. It can be in the form of taking the dog for a walk around the local park or going further afield for cross-country hikes. You can tailor your walk to your personal fitness levels and the kinds of things you enjoy. Getting out into nature regularly is a great way to relieve stress and learn to appreciate the beauty of the world around you.   
    • Cycling: this can be done indoors at the gym, or it can be a great way to explore different areas of your home country. Again, you can make bike rides as difficult or as easy as you want. 
    • Golf: this may not seem like a particularly active sport; however, golf courses are usually very large and require you to do lots of walking in between holes. It’s a low-impact sport on the body and it enables you to get lots of steps in. Plus, it’s a fun activity to do with friends! 
    • Yoga: yoga is great for the body and the mind. Yoga can improve strength, flexibility, and balance as well as reduce stress and promote mental well-being. There are a huge variety of different styles of yoga, each of which brings its own specific benefits such as vinyasa yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga, and hot yoga. 
    • Swimming: swimming is one of the best all-around forms of exercise. It is a low-impact sport, and it improves cardiovascular health, tones and strengthens muscles, and builds up your level of physical fitness. 

All of these kinds of exercise are relatively gentle on the body, and you can start by doing as little or as much as feels right for your body. Now you’ve chosen your preferred sport, let’s get on to how to start exercising when you have asthma. 

How to Start Exercising with Asthma

The most important thing to remember when you first start exercising is to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to start slowly and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of the exercise as your physical fitness improves. After all, we’re not all Olympic-level athletes, and even they had to start somewhere! For example, if you think walking is the best kind of exercise suited to you, start off with a gentle walk around a local park as opposed to hiking around large and difficult hills where it will be difficult to stop if it gets too much. 

The same goes for an activity like swimming, begin with a length or two and give yourself regular breaks to check in with your body and make sure you are feeling well enough to continue. It’s important to avoid overexerting yourself as that will put unnecessary stress on your body and can lead to injuries. Health experts recommend between 20 and 60 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 times per week. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the intensity of the exercise the less the frequency and duration should be. 

If you have any worries about exercising with asthma, it’s always a good idea to chat with your doctor so that they can address your concerns directly and can give you specialised advice based on your individual level of fitness and the severity of your asthma. Breathing exercises can also help improve your asthma symptoms and are something you can try out at home or before you start exercising. Practising breathing exercises can improve your respiratory system which will make exercising easier and will make you less likely to experience breathlessness during everyday activities. 

Tips for Exercising with Asthma

Here are some of our top tips to bear in mind when it comes to exercising when you have asthma. 

Always have your medication to hand

The most important thing to remember when you want to start playing sports or engaging in any kind of physical activity when you have asthma is to stay on top of your medication; for example, if you’ve been prescribed an inhaler always keep it with you. When you have asthma it’s important to always stay on top of your preventer medication and to always have your rescue medication at hand in case an asthma attack occurs. It’s also helpful if you are exercising with someone else to make sure they know how best to help you if you have an asthma attack. 

Always warm up and cool down

Warming up is a crucial part of any sport, especially for people with asthma. Warming up before you exercise helps get the blood flowing to your muscles and it prepares your lungs for the increase in exertion they go through when your body is working harder. 

It’s tempting once you finish your preferred sport to head straight for a shower or a snack. However, you can still experience asthma symptoms from exercise for up to 30 minutes after you stop so you should slowly bring your breathing back to normal to help avoid this. 

Breathe through your nose rather than your mouth 

You should breathe in through your nose as opposed to your mouth when you exercise with asthma. This is because the nose helps filter out things like dust in the air before it gets to your lungs and the nose will warm and humidify the air. Breathing through the mouth means neither of these things will happen so you risk breathing in cold, dry air and other irritants that could trigger an asthma attack. We’ve written another article on how to improve asthma by breathing through your nose which you can check out here.  

Be wary of the environment in which you are exercising

The environment can be a trigger for asthma symptoms in a few ways that it’s important to be aware of if your sport of choice involves being outdoors. Cold weather can be a trigger for asthma so it’s best to either avoid exercising outside in very low temperatures or cover your nose and mouth with something like a scarf because this will help to warm and humidify the cold air before it enters your body. Equally, extremely hot weather should be avoided so on warmer days try to schedule your exercise for the cooler parts of the day (in the morning and the evening). Some people will also find that their asthma is triggered by pollen so they should avoid exercising outside on days when the pollen count is high. 

Listen to your body

If you feel like your asthma symptoms are getting worse while you are exercising, then stop straight away. This may be a sign that you have done enough for the day, or you might just need to take a break and you can continue once you’re sure you’ve got your symptoms under control. You don’t want to overdo things and risk having an asthma attack when it could have been avoided. Being out of breath is normal when you are working out, but symptoms such as coughing, or wheezing shouldn’t be ignored, and they are signs that you should stop. 

It’s also important to remember that not every day is the same. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to maintain your exercise schedule if you are feeling unwell, stressed, or just tired from everyday life. If you’re having a bad day exercise could help to lift your mood, but if you don’t feel up to it don’t pressure yourself into exercising just because you feel like you should. If your body needs to rest then you should do exactly that, run yourself a nice hot bath, indulge in your favourite foods, or just put your feet up and chill! 

To Sum It All Up…

So, there you have it! Sport is good for everyone including people with asthma. Regular exercise can help to improve asthma symptoms by improving blood flow, strengthening your lungs enabling them to function better, helping with weight management, and reducing inflammation. We’ve even shown you that you don’t need to worry if you have exercise-induced asthma because sports are still good for you as long as you start slowly and stick to your medication. 

It’s important to consider the type of sport you want to do if you have asthma, choosing low to moderate-intensity exercise will usually be your best bet. You also need to be careful to build up your stamina gradually and avoid overexerting yourself. If you have any concerns about exercising with asthma, then it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor for specialised advice. 

Now you have all of the motivation you need to start exercising right away and stop postponing getting into a new sport! The first step is always the hardest, but we’ve shown you that once you get started, your asthma will only get better. 

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