When you’re living with asthma, some days can be a struggle simply to breathe normally — never mind breathe easily. Just walking up a flight of stairs can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, making the idea of a strenuous workout seem impossible.
However, just because you have asthma does not mean you need to sit on the sidelines or maintain a sedentary lifestyle. The goal of your asthma treatment is to help you live as healthy and normal a life as possible despite your breathing challenges. This usually includes avoiding asthma attack triggers, such as common allergens, and taking prescription medications to help decrease airway inflammation. Asthma management also means making healthy lifestyle choices, including regular exercise.
It is possible for asthmatics to successfully work out — even engage in strenuous activities like running. By following these simple tips, you can be healthy and active, and breathe easily.
Talk to Your Doctor
When you have asthma, it’s important to discuss any exercise regimen with your doctor before you begin. Chances are, he or she will be supportive of your desire to work out and will help you determine a safe activity level, which activities are best for you and guide you in what to do before, during and after workouts to avoid having an asthma attack. As you get stronger and healthier, revisit your plan and adjust as necessary, but always keep your doctor in the loop.
Choose the Right Activity
While it’s true that asthmatics have successfully completed marathons, that doesn’t mean that you can jump right into a strenuous training plan and expect to be successful. For many people with asthma, swimming is an ideal activity to begin a workout plan, as the warm, moist air in an indoor swimming facility helps keep airways open and reduces inflammation.
At the least, it’s important to understand your triggers and avoid them. That usually means planning indoor workouts on days when the pollen count is high or there is a high level of air pollution. Cold, dry air tends to aggravate asthma symptoms as well, so outdoor workouts during the winter are usually not comfortable. Try several different workouts to determine which works best for you and then stick with it.
Take Medication Before Working Out
To help breathe easier while you work out, take your prescription asthma medication about 10 to 15 minutes before you work out. However, even if you take medication to control your chronic asthma, you should always have a rescue inhaler nearby while you work out. A quick-relief asthma medication can help relieve airway inflammation in a matter of minutes and help stop coughing, wheezing and breathing problems. If you find that you need the rescue inhaler every time you work out, you might be overexerting yourself and need to adjust your exercise routine.
All athletes are advised to warm up before exercising, but some skip it or rush through the warm up period, believing that they can save their energy for the actual workout. This is especially common among asthmatics, who are reluctant to use precious lung capacity during the warm up period.
However, especially among runners with asthma, the warm up is extremely important. Some experts note that getting your lungs working hard before you get into the workout can actually help prevent an attack. They suggest getting your lungs working enough to induce a small amount of coughing or wheezing, as once that happens, it usually takes up to six hours for a similar attack to occur.
A warm up that includes some light cardio interspersed with a few short bursts of intensity can help get your lungs ready for exercise. Of course, again, you should always discuss your plans with your doctor to ensure that you aren’t doing more harm than good by straining your airways.
Know Your Limits
Having asthma is no excuse for skipping exercise, but it does mean you must make adjustments when others may not. Start with light-to-moderate intensity workouts, and increase the intensity as you grow stronger. Never overdo it: Just because the guy on the treadmill next to yours is running eight miles per hour on a steep incline does not mean that you can, or should, attempt the same thing. Pay attention to your body and slow down or stop if breathing becomes too difficult. Use your rescue inhaler, and if it doesn’t work in a few minutes, call for emergency medical assistance.
In addition, avoid working out if you have a cold or other viral infection, as it will negatively affect your ability to breathe. Allow yourself time to get better, and then take it easy for a few days as you rebuild your strength.
Living with asthma has its challenges, but not being able to exercise shouldn’t be one of them. Talk with your doctor and develop a plan for working out, and you’ll be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle even with your disease.