How to Stay Active with Asthma

When you live with the wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath that comes with asthma, the worst thing you can do is exercise — or is it? 

When approached with proper precautions, exercise can actually be the best thing for your asthma symptoms. Our expert team at Wasatch Peak Family Practice can help you manage your worst asthma symptoms and even overcome a few of them — and believe it or not, exercise may be the key. 

Understanding asthma

The reason you feel like you can’t catch your breath during an asthma attack is that, well, you’re right, you can’t catch your breath. Your lungs are desperately trying to draw in air, but the passages that lead to your lungs have become swollen and narrowed. They’ve also begun to overproduce mucus, which worsens the condition. 

The result is that you cough and wheeze as you struggle to get enough oxygen. A steroid inhaler that you use daily can stabilize your airways and help calm the inflammation to help prevent your attacks. Exercise may be a preventive tool, too.

How exercise can help your asthma

Because excessive physical activity can be one of the triggers that sets off an asthma attack, many people with asthma avoid exercise altogether. But that could be a mistake. Studies show that asthma sufferers who exercise a lot can control their symptoms 2.5 times better than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. 

Exercise improves all of your body’s systems and functions by strengthening your bones and building lean muscle mass and a healthy heart. Having a more active lifestyle can help you control your asthma symptoms.

Case in point: Many well-known professional athletes have asthma and still perform at the top of their fields. You may know a few of them:

Of course, they’ve spent a lifetime training and working on a routine that works well for them. You need to start slowly and be careful about how you introduce exercise into your life. The types of activities you choose are critical, and you should check in with our team at Wasatch Peak Family Practice before you start a new routine, especially if you have exercise-induced asthma. 

Exercise-induced asthma

Many things can trigger an asthma attack, including pollen, chemicals, smoke, dust, and pet dander. But if you start coughing and wheezing as soon as you start to move around a bit too much, you have exercise-induced asthma.

When you run or work out, you naturally begin to breathe more deeply. You open your mouth to allow more air into your lungs. Watch any athlete perform and you’ll see this at work. The problem is that if you have asthma, the rush of air that comes in through your mouth instead of your nose is cooler, drier, and unfiltered, which triggers your asthma symptoms. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t exercise, it just means that you need to proceed with caution and learn to recognize how best to manage your symptoms while you’re physically active.

How to safely exercise with asthma

If you have asthma and want to exercise for health and fun, here are a few tips to keep you safe while you embark on this new adventure.

Get medical clearance

While most people with asthma can exercise to some degree with no problem, there are exceptions. Make sure you check in with one of our physicians before you begin. Depending on your unique symptoms, we may recommend a short-term inhaler prior to your workout, or we may suggest other ways to prevent an attack.

Start slowly

Jumping headlong into an intense workout routine is a bad idea. You need to build up to that. Start with short, low-intensity workouts that increase over time. As they say, “you have to walk before you can run.”

Use a peak flow meter

Peak flow meters let you know the rate at which the air is moving into and out of your lungs. Knowing what’s normal for you gives you a good baseline to compare to when you’re exercising. It also helps you tell the difference between normal, heavy breathing and an asthma attack.

Check the weather

Cold days tend to be triggers for many asthma sufferers as the cool, dry air causes the symptoms to flare up. If this is true for you, avoid the outdoors and choose indoor workout activities.

Asthma attacks are serious, and if exercise makes yours worse, you should be very careful before engaging in physical activity. But it’s encouraging to know that you don’t have to avoid it altogether. With proper medical supervision from our experts at Wasatch Peak Family Practice, you may be able to get back in the game. Give our office in Layton, Utah, a call or request an appointment online

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