Exercise for people living with Asthma

Asthma is a condition characterised by intermittent constriction of over-sensitive airways, as well as chronic inflammation which thickens the airways. This leads to a limitation in airflow through the lungs, resulting in wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.

Asthma symptoms can be provoked or worsened by exercise, which is why many asthma sufferers avoid physical activity or sport, leading to reduced cardiovascular fitness and increased risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Lower fitness also lowers the threshold of asthma exacerbation, meaning that it takes less exercise to aggravate the asthma. This leads to a vicious cycle of asthma flare-ups and deconditioning.

What are the benefits of exercise in patients with asthma?

Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise in patients with asthma, which include:
• Increase in number of days without asthma symptoms
• Increased aerobic/cardiovascular fitness
• Increased tolerance of physical activity
• Increased pulmonary minute ventilation (the amount of air a person’s lungs can process in 1 minute)

Is exercise safe if I have asthma? What about exercise-induced asthma?

When starting an exercise program, the most important consideration for people living with asthma is exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), which is airway narrowing that occurs as a result of exercise. EIB can be triggered by the increased amount of air passing through the lungs during exercise, particularly in the presence of environmental triggers such as cold or dry air, air pollution, allergens (such as pollen) and chlorine. People who suffer from EIB should consult with an exercise physiologist to tailor an exercise program to their individual circumstances. They should understand their exercise tolerance carefully and follow the below tips to reduce episodes of EIB.

Tips for exercising safely with asthma:

• When starting a new exercise program, begin slowly and avoid high intensities or long durations until your fitness improves.
• Manage any constriction of the airways with medications prescribed for your condition such as puffers.
• Begin exercise sessions with a 10-15 minute warm-up to reduce the likelihood of EIB during the exercise session.
• If you are experiencing an exacerbation of your asthma symptoms you should not commence exercise but postpone it for another day when your airway function has improved.
• Avoid exercise in cold environments or areas with high levels of airborne allergens or pollution.
• Avoid exercise in chlorinated pools if this is known to exacerbate your symptoms.
• Be aware of the possibility of a delayed asthma attack after you have finished your exercise session and ensure you have access to prescribed medication such as your puffer during this time.
• If you have had asthma attacks in the past that have been brought on by exercise and did not resolve easily with your asthma medication, you may need to undergo formal exercise testing in a specialised medical facility such as a respiratory clinic.

I have asthma, what type of exercise should I be doing?

People with asthma should aim to include an adequate amount of both aerobic and resistance exercise for its management and for general health. A person’s particular program depends on many factors such as level of fitness and the stability of your asthma so we do recommend consulting with one of our exercise physiologists. In general however, people with asthma should aim to include:
• Aerobic exercise – Start low and build up gradually until you are consistently doing 30-40 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day. Moderate aerobic activity is any exercise that leads to a modest increase in your breathing and heart rate. It includes activities such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling and dancing. If this is well tolerated and your fitness has improved to an adequate level, you can introduce some bouts of vigorous intensity exercise such as running, exercise classes and sport.
• Resistance exercise – Include resistance exercise as part of your program to ensure you gain the benefits of increased muscle strength, improved bone mineral density and improved support for your joints. Resistance exercise includes weights, resistance bands or bodyweight exercises, and should be included twice per week for 20-30 minutes.

Our Exercise Physiologists at Glebe Physio are professionals who are trained in the safe and effective prescription of exercise for people with conditions such as asthma.

At Glebe Physio, we offer one-on-one appointments to individually assess your situation and tailor an exercise program for you, as well as fully supervised classes for those who enjoy exercising in a group environment.

If you would like to ask a question about our services or anything else, visit our Contact Us page to get in touch.

If you are ready to make an appointment, visit our make a booking page and get started today.

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For more, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

If you would like to ask a question about our services or anything else, visit our Contact Us page to get in touch.

If you are ready to make an appointment, visit our make a booking page and let us help you with your fitness or recovery.

Please note that the information we provide on web pages like this one are for general information and educational purposes. We recommend speaking to a qualified physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to assess your individual situation.