If you have asthma, exercise can sometimes worsen your symptoms. This may include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Typically, these symptoms begin 5 to 20 minutes after starting physical activity. Occasionally, these symptoms occur immediately upon stopping activity.
When this occurs, it’s called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or exercise-induced asthma. You can have EIB without having asthma.
Understandably, you may be hesitant to start running. But you’ll be glad to know that it’s possible to run safely with asthma.
Running can even ease your asthma symptoms by strengthening your lungs and reducing inflammation. This can make it easier to enjoy exercise and daily activities.
Before starting a running routine, make sure your asthma is well controlled. Your doctor can help you manage your asthma before you hit the pavement.
When done with a doctor’s guidance, running may help control your asthma symptoms. It can:
Improve your lung function
Poor lung function is a hallmark of asthma. However, in a 2018 study, researchers determined that physical activity could improve lung function in people with asthma. It can also slow down the decline of lung function, which normally happens with age.
Increase your oxygen uptake
Physical activity, like running, improves the oxygen capacity of your lungs. This can decrease the effort required to breathe and do daily activities, according to a 2013 study.
Decrease airway inflammation
According to a 2015 study, aerobic exercise can help reduce inflammation in the airways. This could ease the symptoms of asthma, which are caused by airway inflammation.
For a safe and effective workout, follow these tips for running with asthma.
1. Talk to your doctor
Before starting a running routine, consult your doctor. They can provide safety tips and precautions based on the severity of your asthma.
Your doctor may also recommend more regular checkups as you develop a running routine.
2. Know your asthma action plan
Work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan.
This plan will include preventive measures to control your symptoms. For example, your doctor may have you use a daily inhaler for long-term management. This can soothe airway inflammation, which decreases your overall risk of flare-ups.
They might also have you use a rescue inhaler 15 minutes before running. A rescue inhaler contains medicine that rapidly opens the airways.
Also, ask your doctor what to do if you’re running without an inhaler and have an asthma attack. They can discuss breathing exercises and signs you need emergency help.
3. Pay attention to your body
While it’s easy to zone out while running, it’s important to stay in tune with your body.
Make sure that you’re familiar with the normal signs of exercising, such as:
- flushed skin
- faster, deeper breathing
- feeling warm
You should also know the symptoms of an asthma attack, which aren’t normal during exercise. They may include:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- breathing that doesn’t slow down
4. Carry your rescue inhaler
Always take your rescue inhaler. This will help you prevent an asthma attack if you experience symptoms while running.
If you tend to forget your rescue inhaler, try posting a reminder near your door.
5. Check the weather
Look at the weather forecast before running outside. Avoid running in extremely cold or hot weather, which can induce asthma symptoms.
6. Avoid high pollen counts
Pollen can trigger asthma symptoms, so check your local pollen counts first. Exercise inside if there’s a lot of pollen.
7. Reduce your exposure to air pollution
Air pollution is another common asthma trigger. To decrease your exposure, avoid running near busy, high-traffic roads.
8. Run in the morning
If possible, run outside early in the day.
During warmer months, the weather will be milder in the morning. Pollen and air pollution levels are usually lower, too.
9. Understand your limits
Start at a low intensity. You can increase your speed over time. As your body gets used to running, you can begin to run faster with asthma.
Take frequent breaks. Long-distance running can trigger an asthma attack, as it requires prolonged breathing.
Run shorter distances and stop when necessary. This will make it easier to run more regularly, which can help increase your lung capacity over time.
10. Warm up and cool down
Warm up for 10 minutes before running. Likewise, cool down for 10 minutes after running.
This is especially important if you’re entering or leaving an air-conditioned or heated room, as drastic temperature changes can trigger symptoms.
11. Cover your mouth and nose
Cold, dry air can constrict your airways. If it’s cold outside, wrap your mouth and nose with a scarf. This will help you breathe in warmer air.
12. Shower after running outside
Wash your body and hair to prevent pollen from spreading inside your home. You can also place your running clothes and sneakers in a separate area.
13. Take extra precautions
Run with a friend whenever possible. Let them know what they should do if you experience asthma symptoms.
Always bring your phone, and avoid running in remote areas. This ensures that another person can get help if you need medical assistance.
To improve breathing during physical activity, try breathing exercises for asthma. You can also do these exercises before or after running to further manage your symptoms.
They work by opening your airways and normalizing your breathing.
Pursed lip breathing
If you’re short of breath, do pursed lip breathing. This technique helps oxygen enter your lungs and slows down breathing.
- Sit in a chair, back straight. Relax your neck and shoulders. Pucker your lips, like you’re about to whistle.
- Inhale through your nose for two counts.
- Exhale through your mouth for four counts, lips pursed.
- Repeat until your breathing slows down.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, expands the airways and chest. It also moves oxygen into your lungs, making it easier to breathe.
- Sit in a chair or lie in bed. Relax your neck and shoulders. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Inhale slowly through your nose. Your belly should move outward against your hand. Your chest should stay still.
- Exhale slowly through puckered lips, two times longer than your inhale. Your belly should move inward, and your chest should stay still.
Buteyko breathing is a method that’s used to slow down breathing. It teaches you to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth, which soothes your airways.
- Sit up straight. Take several small breaths, 3 to 5 seconds each.
- Breathe out through your nose.
- Pinch your nostrils shut with your thumb and index finger.
- Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Breathe normally for 10 seconds.
- Repeat until your symptoms subside.
- Use your rescue inhaler if your symptoms are severe or if they don’t go away after 10 minutes.
Before going on a run, follow these tips to stay safe and comfortable:
- Take your rescue inhaler 15 minutes before running or as directed by your doctor.
- Carry your phone and rescue inhaler in a running pouch.
- Stay hydrated.
- If you’re running in cold weather, wear a scarf around your mouth and nose to prevent cold-induced asthma.
- Check the pollen and air pollution levels.
- If you’re running alone, let a friend know where you’ll be running.
- Carry a medical tag or card, if you have one.
- Plan your route so you can avoid busy, polluted roads.
Extreme temperatures can worsen your asthma symptoms. This includes hot, humid weather and cold, dry weather.
Therefore, it’s best to run outside when the weather is mild and pleasant.
Talk to a doctor if you:
- want to start a running routine
- feel your asthma isn’t well controlled
- have developed new symptoms
- have questions about your asthma action plan
- continue having symptoms after using an inhaler
You should also see a doctor if you think you have asthma but haven’t received a diagnosis.
It’s possible to run safely with asthma. Start by working with your doctor to control your symptoms. They can provide an asthma action plan, along with a rescue inhaler.
When it’s time to run, carry your inhaler and avoid extreme weather. Take frequent breaks and practice breathing exercises. With time and patience, you’ll be able to enjoy a regular running routine.