Exercising with asthma


One of the preventative steps that a person with asthma can take to control their asthma is to avoid environments (e.g., high pollution and pollen) and activities that trigger their asthma. So why exercise if exercise is a trigger for the majority of individuals with asthma?

Exercise is actually one of the most effective treatments for patients with asthma. Exercise engagement is critical to the management and treatment of asthma patients. Exercise programmes can take place in a variety of environments including a gym class, gym setting within local communities or home exercise programmes.


Evidence suggests that when individuals with asthma engage in a regular exercise programme, they will experience:

  • a reduction in respiratory symptoms
  • improved asthma control
  • a reduction in the use of emergency inhalers (e.g., salbutamol)
  • a reduction in hospitalisations due to asthma
  • improved lung health
  • improvement in fitness
  • improved mood
  • reductions in body fat

It is clear that exercise is a powerful tool in the management of asthma.


Below are 5 things to consider when exercising with asthma:


  1. Ensure asthma is well controlled at rest. This includes regularly using prevention inhaler therapy (e.g., inhaledcorticosteroids) as prescribed by your GP.
  2. Try to exercise in environments that are less likely to trigger asthma. Avoid times when the environment is going to be high in pollution or pollen, or when it may be cold and dry. During these times, exercising indoors or wearing a mask to humidify the air may be beneficial.
  3. Engaging in exercises can significantly improve asthma severity. Exercise can reduce airway inflammation and improve breathing control so people with asthma experience less severe symptoms, less often, use less emergency therapy (e.g., salbutamol) and have fewer hospitalisations. Plus becoming fitter has more holistic benefits on health and well-being.
  4. Many athletes have asthma. In fact, 21% of the British Olympic Team have an asthma-related condition. Asthma occurs in around 30% (the prevalence) of sportsmen and women, such as professional footballers, and elite swimmers have been reported to have a prevalence of up to 70%. Bottom line is, you can have asthma and push your body to its limits as long as your asthma is well managed.
  5. Not all breathing symptoms experienced are down to asthma. This is especially the case for people with well-controlled asthma and who have taken appropriate inhaler therapy prior to starting exercising. Symptoms such as difficulty to breathe in, tight chest when breathing in, wheezing breathing in and tight/stiff shoulders and back are all symptoms that may be related more to a disorder of the control of breathing patterns (dysfunctional breathing) or exercise-induced laryngeal (voicebox) obstruction (EILO). It's possible to experience both asthma and dysfunctional breathing/EILO. Breathing pattern training, with support from respiratory physio/speech and language therapists, can be beneficial to help people improve breathing patterns. In addition, try to not to stress too much about breathing during exercise, relax the breathing into exercise rather than trying to breath harder because you are exercising. Remember a generally good sport technique (e.g., good running technique) promotes a good breathing pattern.

Prof. John Dickinson, MASH Vice-chair of Trustees



Do you need support with asthma?


If asthma symptoms are limiting your daily activities or stopping you from being able to exercise, then it is likely that your asthma is not well controlled. Good asthma control means that:

  • you have few symptoms, day or night
  • you don't need to use reliever inhalers (usually blue)
  • you don't have any asthma attacks
  • you don't need emergency treatment
  • asthma doesn't limit your daily life (including working, school and exercising)

If you need further support for your asthma, you can book a one-to-one advice appointment with Medway Asthma Self-Help's asthma nurse. Call 01634 855844, email medwayasthmaselfhelp@btconnect.com or send a message via our contact form. All of our services are free and open to all.

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