Everyone needs exercise to stay healthy, and that includes people with asthma. Staying physically active while having asthma can be a frightening idea, especially with the possibility of aggravating your asthma symptoms. With some proper prevention and management, though, most people with asthma are able to workout without experiencing asthma symptoms.
While it may seem counterintuitive, exercise can actually benefit those with asthma. It can effectively:
- Improve lung function and stamina
- Boost the immune system and reduce the risk of a future upper respiratory infection that can trigger asthma symptoms
- Naturally fight against stress and/or depression, by the release of “feel good” chemicals brought on by physical activity
- Help with weight loss, which can lower your risk of future asthma attacks
- Increase energy levels
How to Stay Safe Before, During, and After Exercise
If you have asthma, there are ways to stay safe and prevent attacks. Your environment can impact your symptoms, so identifying triggers can help you prevent an attack. Exercising in warm temperatures is better than cold temperatures, for instance, because warm, moist air is better for keeping the airways lubricated and relaxed. If you do choose to workout outside in cold weather, you can wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth. If you are sick with a cold or seasonal allergies, restrict exercise until you feel well again. If your asthma and/or allergies are triggered by things like pollen, use a smartphone app to determine the levels of pollen outside to gauge whether it’s safe to exercise.
It helps to know your “asthma zones” before you start a workout program. These zones categorize symptoms and lay out an action plan if you are at imminent risk of an asthma attack.
The asthma zones, provided by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, are as follows:
- Green zone: There are no symptoms of asthma. Breathing is good, and there is no coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. If you’re in the green zone more often than not, it means your asthma plan is working! Keep taking your long-term control medicine daily, and ask your doctor if you need any quick-relief medicine before you start exercising.
- Yellow zone: Symptoms of asthma start to begin when a person finds themselves coughing, wheezing, and feeling short of breath during the day or night. Although most activities are still possible, it is a warning sign that an attack could be imminent. You should take quick-relief medicine right away and rest to see if you return to the green zone within one hour. If you are in the yellow zone more than once a week, your asthma plan is not working as it should, and you should see your allergist.
- Red zone: If you experience chest tightness, coughing, and/or shortness of breath that makes it difficult to talk, and you can’t perform everyday activities, you are in imminent danger. In the red zone, medicine doesn’t, and you could turn blue from lack of oxygen. If you are in the red zone, call 911 immediately and consult with your allergist as soon as you are released from emergency medical care.
The Best Exercise Choices for Those with Asthma
Some sports present a higher risk for having an asthma attack than others. For example, those that require constant physical exertion such as running up and down a basketball court or soccer field are riskier than baseball, where players have shorter bursts of physical exertion and can stop in-between bases or after catching a ball in the outfield. A sport like hockey is doubly risky, because of the need to inhale the cold air on the ice, and the need for constant exertion skating up and down the rink.
One choice for an ideal exercise is swimming. A swimmer’s horizontal position can loosen mucus in the lungs, and breathing in warm, moist air is also helpful. Some people with asthma choose low-impact exercises like yoga, as well. Yoga can help you focus on your breathing and increase your lung capacity by building muscle strength. It can also do wonders for lowering your stress levels, which is a major trigger for asthma attacks.
Other forms of exercise that can improve lung function without causing enormous strain include: golf, tennis, weightlifting, hiking, using an elliptical machine, and gradually building up endurance through walking. It’s important to build up endurance and stamina over time rather than diving headfirst into a new exercise routine you aren’t ready to take on.
Need Help with an Exercise Program? Contact a Board-Certified Asthma Specialist.
It’s important to consult with your allergist/asthma specialist to determine the best exercise program for you. Your doctor can help you decide which activities are best for you, as well as come up with an action plan when you experience symptoms. Your doctor can help you determine the pros and cons, and potential risks and benefits, to any given sport and how to manage your symptoms while exercising.
Next month we will explain exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), formerly called exercise-induced asthma, and how to avoid it.
Need an action plan for exercise and asthma? Don’t wait, contact our board-certified allergists and asthma specialists at the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia today by calling (404) 994-3574 or booking your appointment online.