Don’t Let Asthma Keep You on the Couch

No doubt about it -- exercise is safe and healthy for people with asthma. It can even make the condition better in the long run. A growing number of studies show that exercise can improve breathing control and how you feel day to day.

The key is to make the right moves before and during your workouts to reduce your symptoms and ward off an attack. Always check with your asthma doctor before you begin any fitness routine, but these tips can help, too.

Choose the Right Workout

Not all workouts are created equal when it comes to asthma. Some types of exercise are better than others:

  • Try activities that switch between short bursts of energy and time for recovery, such as golf, tennis, and volleyball. The downtime lets you catch your breath.
  • Light to moderate exercise, such as walking, hiking, and biking, can boost your endurance without making you lose your breath.
  • Yoga may improve your breath control and lower stress, a common asthma trigger. One study found that people had fewer attacks and used an inhaler less often after they did yoga every day for a month.
  • When you swim, you take in moist, warm air, which usually doesn’t bring on asthma symptoms. If you have trouble breathing when you’re doing laps, it may mean you’re sensitive to the chlorine in pools, which can irritate your airways. Talk to your doctor about getting your condition under control if you want to keep swimming.

Some workouts may be tougher for people with asthma:

  • Constant exercise, such as long-distance running, soccer, and basketball, is more likely to trigger your symptoms.
  • Cold, dry air makes your airways tighten, so things like cross-country skiing and ice hockey may make it hard to breathe. 

These activities aren’t necessarily off-limits, though, so talk to your doctor about how you can do the hobbies you enjoy.

Time It Right

Weather can pave the way for asthma symptoms, so keep the season and time of day in mind when you’re choosing a workout. You may want to head indoors in the winter to avoid the cold, dry air. And high humidity may be a problem during the summer, so it may be better to exercise in the mornings and evenings.

Do allergies make your asthma flare up? Check the weather report for the pollen count and air pollution levels. If they’re high, hit the gym or do an exercise DVD indoors that day.


Be Ready to Control Your Symptoms

Try these moves to help you breathe easier during workouts:

  • Talk with your doctor before you start an exercise routine. He can help you stay safe. Together, you can create an asthma action plan that details what you should do if you have symptoms or an attack while you’re exercising.
  • Take your asthma medication about 10 to 15 minutes before a workout, if your doctor recommends it.
  • Always have your rescue inhaler on hand in case your symptoms flare up.
  • Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes. It can get your airways ready for physical activity.
  • Try to breathe through your nose, which warms the air before it gets to your lungs.
  • If it’s cold outside, wear a scarf, neck gaiter, or ski mask to warm the air you’re breathing.
  • Scale back on your fitness routine if you have a cold or another lung infection.

What if You Have an Asthma Attack?

You’re working up a sweat when you start to cough and wheeze. What should you do?

First, stop your activity and follow the asthma action plan you created with your doctor. Use your rescue inhaler and do your best to stay calm -- stress can make things worse.

If you don’t feel better, get medical help right away.


WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on October 16, 2015



Jana Tuck, MD, an allergist in Cape Girardeau, MO, and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology .

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American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: “Chlorine Allergy.”

CDC: “Common Asthma Triggers.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Exercise-Induced Asthma.”

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