Running is good for heart health and builds muscle at the same time. It also requires very little equipment. All you need are shoes and a place to run. That makes running a great way to stay in shape.
If you have exercise-induced asthma (EIA), running can lead to an EIA attack that can leave you gasping for air. If you enjoy running but have EIA, you may be wondering if it’s possible to run. Keep reading to learn what you can do to enjoy running and other activities.
Asthma is a common condition. It affects approximately 300 million people across the entire world.
Asthma is a long-term or chronic disease. If you have asthma, the airways in your lungs are always inflamed. During an asthma attack, those airways become even more inflamed and tightened. That makes it impossible to breathe normally.
Asthma comes in many different forms. One form is called EIA or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). If you have EIB, the symptoms of asthma don't occur until you start exercising.
When you exercise, your airways naturally tighten. If you have EIA, this tightening could trigger an asthma attack. Running can further trigger asthma because you’re breathing in air of different temperatures. For example, if you breathe cold air or air outside filled with pollen or air pollution while running, it can trigger an asthma attack. People with EIB can have no signs of asthma unless they’re exercising.
The symptoms of an EIA attack are seen between five and 20 minutes of starting exercise and include:
- tightening of the chest
- shortness of breath
- chest pain, which is rarer than other symptoms
How to Run with Exercise-Induced Asthma
It’s still possible to enjoy running and other forms of exercise if you EIA. Learning to manage the symptoms of asthma and minimize the risks of an attack can allow you to continue exercising.
1. Talk to your doctor
If you're not a regular runner and are just getting into running, you should meet with your doctor. They can help you develop a plan of action that will gradually allow you to run for longer periods and lessen the chance of an EIA attack. If you just jump into running three miles all at once, you’re likely to trigger an EIA attack.
With your doctor's help, you can determine the best way to start running. For example, timing your asthma medication to coincide with the start of your run may help to prevent an EIA attack. Some medications, like an intermediate-acting inhaled beta-agonist, such as albuterol (Proventil, AccuNeb, ProAir), 10 minutes before exercise can substantially reduce EIA symptoms. Other options for the long-term management of exercise-triggered asthma include leukotriene modifiers such as montelukast (Singulair) or zafirlukast (Accolate).
Another drug that can be taken 15 to 20 minutes before exercise is a mast cell stabilizer. This drug can prevent an allergic reaction. Examples of this drug are cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom) and nedocromil sodium (Tilade).
2. Warm up gradually
Plan to warm up carefully before you run. Warming up before exercising allows your body to work up to strenuous activity gradually. This can help lessen the risk of an attack. The biggest trigger for an EIA attack is the sudden airway constriction that can happen if you jump right into a run. Easing into your run is very important.
Dynamic stretches are a great way to warm up before a run. Dynamic stretches warm the body up and help to loosen connective tissue in your body. Examples of dynamic stretches include leg swings, gate stretches, and crossover stretches.
3. Assess your risk of an EIA attack
If you plan to run outside, check the weather and air quality before you head out. An EIA attack can be triggered by:
- extremely polluted air
- dry air
- cold air
- pollen-filled air
You should avoid those situations if at all possible.
You may also want to avoid running if you have a respiratory infection because your airways will already be compromised.
4. Prepare your supplies
Prepare your supplies to help minimize the risks of an EIA attack and be prepared in case you do have an EIA attack. Pack plenty of water, and wear nonconstrictive clothing. Consider dressing in layers that are easy to remove as you run. This will help keep your body temperature as comfortable as possible.
In case of an emergency, you should bring your phone and inhaler if you’ve been prescribed one. It is also a good idea to let someone know when you're going and when you’ll be back.
5. Pace yourself
During your run, it's important to set a steady pace and avoid any sudden starts or stops in your activity. For example, a continuous pace might be easier on your body than sprinting intervals. Listen to your body and stop for breaks if necessary.
6. Cool down
It’s also important to gradually cool down, stay hydrated, and stretch after you run. Cooling down will allow your airways to return to their resting state.
It’s possible to run and perform other types of exercise if you have EIA. To start or continue a running regimen, be sure to set up an appointment with your doctor. Work with your doctor to make sure you know:
- your EIA triggers
- the symptoms of an attack
- any possible allergies that may be making your asthma worse
- what kinds of medications you can take to help manage your asthma
With the right tools, running can be a part of your regular exercise routine.