Asthma, exercise and sports

If your asthma is under control and you are following your action plan, exercising and practising a sport is a good idea for your health, your mood and overall wellbeing.

Sport keeps you fit, it helps you to stay at a healthy weight and it also helps some people to sleep better. It improves blood circulation, accelerates the metabolism, oxygenates the body and releases toxins. If you choose a sport you really like, it will also cheer you up and help fight depression or anxiety related to your asthma.

Given your asthma, you may think that some activities, such as yoga and walking, may be better for you but unless your doctor advised you differently, there is no reason to prefer one sport over another. Whether it is running, cycling, team sports or indoor fitness workouts, with the right training and the correct use of medicine, you can practice any sport you want, you can even become a professional athlete!

You must always have your quick-relief medicine with you during workouts. If your doctor prescribed it, you may need to use it 15 minutes before exercising to prevent attacks.

Exercise is good for you

  • Regular physical activity, 30 minutes a day for at least five days per week, will improve your general health and your quality of life.
  • Make time for a careful warm-up before exercising!
  • Avoid high exposure to air pollutants, allergens (if sensitised) and chlorine levels in pools, particularly during training periods.
  • Avoid outdoor training when it’s too cold, when pollen or mould counts are high and during pollution peaks .
  • Avoid exercising in crowded indoor spaces during viral infection peaks.
  • Track your progress with a digital aid, such as wrist band or smartwatch.

Children and sports

Children with asthma may be reluctant to practice sports because they may be afraid of having an attack or they may be ashamed of using their inhalers in front of other children. This may lead to poor fitness and a higher risk of obesity.

All children and teenagers should be encouraged to play sport since it is good for their overall health, mood and it is a good way to make friends. Swimming may be a good option since it may increase lung function and cardio-pulmonary fitness, however, there are some concerns about exposure to chlorine with indoor pools.

Exercise is good for your children

  • Sport at school: make sure that all teachers and particularly gym teachers, are aware of children’s asthma and what to do in case of an attack.
  • Prefer pools that do not use chlorine.
  • Exercises may be embedded in daily activities, for instance walk at very fast pace or run on the way home, cycle to move around. Prefer active free time leisure and bootcamps, such as trekking, kayak, dancing and martial arts.

Exercise-induced attacks

Exercising can trigger asthma symptoms and attacks if your asthma is not well-controlled, because the airways narrow as a result of physical activity and increased rate of breathing.

Healthcare providers call this “Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction”.

To avoid this, you must follow your controller therapy and, if your doctor prescribed it, use your reliever medicine 15 minutes before exercising. Warming-up before exercising is also very helpful.

If physical activity is causing your asthma attacks, it is usually a sign your asthma is not well-controlled and you should talk to the doctor about checking your inhaler technique or adjusting the treatment!

It is important to distinguish between exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and symptoms that result from obesity, lack of fitness or alternative conditions. In a person with asthma, if breathing problems worsen after you finish your workout, this is most likely due to asthma. With other conditions that cause respiratory symptoms, breathing usually settles down as soon as you finish exercising.

Athletes and professional sportspersons

Respiratory conditions, including asthma, are very common in athletes and sportspersons, particularly those competing at a high level. This happens because their airways are under stress because of intense exercise and often become hyperresponsive, which means they are predisposed to excessive narrowing in response to external triggers.

Tips for athletes

  • Follow the asthma action plan, in which it may be useful to add workout strategies discussed with the healthcare provider.
  • Comply with controller therapy.
  • Avoid high exposure to air pollutants, allergens (if sensitised) and chlorine levels in pools, particularly during training periods.
  • Avoid training when it’s very cold or when pollen or mould counts are high.
  • Make sure you check the relevant anti-doping regulations, to make sure your asthma treatment meets the rules. For more information, check the World Anti-Doping Agency webpage.
More #aboutasthma
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Master your asthma action plan
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