Breathe Easy

Why exercising with asthma is an achievable goal

By Jacqueline Ruck

As an overwhelming three million Canadians suffer from asthma, it is no surprise that May’s National Asthma Awareness Month is taking centre stage.

Asthma is a lung disease that affects the ability to breathe due to inflammation or muscle spasms around your air passages. In an attempt to avoid noticeable asthma symptoms, people try to stay clear of certain triggers that may cause them to experience an asthma attack. An attack occurs when an individual suddenly experiences symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing or chest pain. Triggers that may lead to an asthma attack include mold, pollen and dust. Exercise may also be a trigger for those suffering from asthma and as a result, one may be inclined to avoid it as much as possible in order to lower the risk of an attack. But this does not have to be the case.

Take control

Physical activity aids in sustaining healthy lungs and as a result, exercise can actually assist those who have asthma. Other benefits that stem from exercise include maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening the immune system, all of which help individuals suffering from asthma maintain the disease. The key to exercising successfully with asthma is to talk to a doctor before you begin. Knowing what type of medications you should be taking and making sure that you’re following your doctor’s advice is crucial to being able to function as normally as possible. Once you feel like your asthma is well maintained, asthma should not be able to keep you from exercising.

Choose your exercise wisely

Not all exercises are alike, and as a result, a person with asthma may find that some exercises are easier to perform than others. Activities that involve constant running or continual exertion may be too challenging for someone with asthma. Activities to be mindful of include soccer, basketball, or hockey. This doesn’t mean that all people with asthma should avoid these sports, but it is important to know that these
activities tend to demand a lot from your cardiovascular system, which may be problematic for someone suffering from asthma.

Activities that may be more palatable for people with asthma are those that fluctuate between intense and mild exertion, such as baseball and volleyball. Swimming, although requiring high endurance, is usually performed in moist, warm places and tends not to irritate the lungs. Other forms of exercise recommended for asthma sufferers include walking, running on a treadmill, aerobic exercises that allow for recovery periods, and cycling. Regardless of what form of exercise you choose, a proper warm-up and cool-down should never be missed because
they allow for gradual change in your breathing and heart rate.

Location, location, location

When choosing a location, try to avoid exercising around other asthma triggers such as air pollutants or cold air. These may present themselves as insurmountable barriers and make it too difficult to complete a proper fitness routine. For example, exercising in particularly cold or hot temperatures could trigger an asthma attack, so it is better to find an environment with good air quality that will allow you to focus on your exercise rather than worry about asthma. Running indoors on particularly hot or cold days may allow you to run a greater distance and do so more comfortably. When exercising outdoors in the springtime, try to schedule your workout into the mid-afternoon or evening so that you can avoid times when pollen is at its worst. If you’re performing a winter sport in cold air, try covering your nose and mouth with a scarf, if possible. This will raise the temperature of your breath before it reaches your lungs and should lower the risk of an asthma attack.

Know your limits

It is important never to push yourself to the point where you lose control of the asthma. If breathing is simply too difficult: stop! You may want to gradually increase the length of time you exercise so that your body has time to adjust. If you’re suffering from a cold or flu, you are at greater risk of experiencing an asthma attack triggered by exercise. Respiratory or chest infections complicate breathing and adding exercise into the mix may only make it worse. Thus, avoiding exercise until you’ve recovered is a good idea. You also want to be aware of early warning signs. If you start to cough or become out of breath while exercising, these may be signs that an asthma attack is on the horizon. If this occurs, pausing for a break from your routine is advisable. Your doctor may recommend that you take your inhaler at this time as well. Do your best to stay in control of your asthma so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to control you.


Exercise & Asthma: Canadian Lung Association: lung.ca/diseases-maladies/asthma-asthme/exerciseexercice/index_e.php

The Asthma Society of Canada: asthma.ca/adults

Jacqueline has taken control of her asthma and has a passion for fitness, with a particular interest in yoga, cardio and body weight training. She lives in Ottawa.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fifty-Five Plus.

Did you know?
• The term asthma comes from the ancient Greek word for panting.
• Asthma is more commonly experienced by adult women than adult men.
• If you experienced asthma as a child, it might become inactive once you reach adulthood, only to return again later on in life.
• Asthma appears to run in families though some people are diagnosed with asthma without knowing a family member who has the disease.
• Asthma is not contagious.
• Asthma is a chronic disease that tends to change over time. It is important to inform your doctor about changes in your asthma symptoms so that it can be properly treated at all times.
• As you age, asthma can worsen if left untreated.
• An allergy test could be useful in determining many asthma triggers.
• Most deaths related to asthma could have been prevented by proper education. Understanding your body and how to take care of it is crucial to functioning with asthma.
• Over the past 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with asthma has increased