Don’t let asthma leave you too scared to exercise

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition that effects the airway and lungs.  It is associated with recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, coughing and tightness of the chest that can range from mild irritation through to acute, life-threatening obstruction of air-flow. Obstruction is generally caused by swelling, muscle spasm and excess mucous that may resolve naturally or may require medical treatment.

The causes of asthma are largely unclear there are both genetic and environmental factors at play. Many factors can contribute to the development of asthma, including allergens, air pollution and obesity. Frequency of attacks can vary from discreet, occasional episodes to chronic and recurrent breathing difficulties.

Asthma is typically managed with a combination of preventer and reliever medications;

  • Preventers are typically daily medications that are taken with the aim of decreasing the inflammatory processes implicated in asthma.
  • Relievers are only taken in the event of an attack and are largely geared toward reducing bronchoconstriction or muscle spasm

Uncontrolled asthma can make people particularly prone to exercise induced attacks but despite this exercise can be a helpful part of your long-term asthma management plan. Regular exercise not only increases your cardiorespiratory fitness, but it tends to decrease chronic inflammation, decrease the frequency of attacks and decrease the reliance on medications to control asthma.

Keeping physically active can also offer many other health benefits such as improving heart health, boosting mental health, and reducing the risk of other chronic health conditions.

What sort of exercise is good for asthma?

Whatever exercise you enjoy, it’s best to start out slow and build your endurance and intensity as is comfortable to do so. Exercise doesn’t need to be intense to be beneficial so take it easy to start and make sure you always have a reliever on hand.

Exercise that focuses on promoting lung capacity and regulating breathing can be especially beneficial and interval-based approaches that involve short bouts of activity with rests in between can work well for asthma sufferers. This can improve cardiovascular fitness, stamina and strength without stressing the airways and lungs.

The following types of exercise would be ideal for people with asthma:


Yoga helps you focus on breathing. Controlled, rhythmic breathing during exercise can help increase a your lung capacity while building muscle strength for overall fitness.

Yoga and rhythmic breathing can also help lower stress levels and stress can be a trigger for inflammation and asthma in many people so, by reducing stress, you can help decrease asthma flares.


Swimming is great for your lungs as it results in deep breathing of warm, humid air, which can be beneficial for people with asthma. Swimming, like yoga helps us focus on and control our breathing. And it can also be easy and gentle to start, allowing you to increase the challenge as your fitness and lung capacity improve.

Some people may find that swimming in a chlorinated pool triggers their asthma so again, always have your reliever on hand.

Other forms of exercise

Many other types of exercise can also help improve the function of the lungs without overstraining them.

These include:

  • pilates
  • golf
  • weightlifting
  • hiking
  • cycling

Other more strenuous exercises and activities are not necessarily bad for asthma, but it is probably best for you to best to work with an accredited exercise physiologist to work out a balanced exercise plan that’s suitable for you. Before setting out to increase high intensity exercise it’s probably also worth reviewing your overall asthma management plan and your emergency plan.

High intensity exercise can be really beneficial in building overall fitness and physical condition but these sorts of activities are often more likely to trigger attacks, especially when exercising in cold, dry environments.

If you’re struggling with asthma, you can start to on top of it with the following steps:

  1. visit your doctor to create an asthma management plan that outlines how to manage symptoms
  2. explore with them what preventative strategies you can implement to decrease flare-ups
  3. make sure you fully understand how and when to take any medicines prescribed
  4. track your symptoms to identify your specific triggers
  5. look at ways you can reduce your exposure to any triggers you identify
  6. get a referral to your local exercise physiologist

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