Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and swelling in the airways, making breathing difficult during a flare of symptoms.

For some people with asthma, some forms of exercise may trigger a flare. But exercise also has many potential benefits. It may help decrease inflammation, improve lung capacity, and support overall physical and mental health.

To learn more about getting active with asthma, Healthline spoke with Shivaika Sewlal. She’s a patient advocate and lifestyle content creator in Cape Town, South Africa, who uses social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with asthma, eczema, and food allergies.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.

I go to the gym a lot. I do yoga classes, Pilates, and other strength training. I like to hike outdoors. I used to run as well, but now my feet are causing some issues, so I’ve stopped that.

I normally take my asthma inhaler before any form of exercise and try to avoid asthma triggers.

At first, exercise did trigger my asthma a lot, and I assumed that it was bad for people with asthma. But now that I’m exercising regularly, I’m doing well. I can do long-distance running without it triggering my asthma at all.

I try to avoid exercising outdoors when there’s too much pollen because I have pollen allergy, which triggers my asthma and eczema. When I’m hiking, I use a mask to cover my face, and that helps a lot. I noticed during the COVID pandemic that my asthma was doing better, and I’ve continued using a mask because it helps me.

I also try to avoid exercising outdoors in cold weather because cold air triggers my asthma.

I listen to my body to learn what works and what doesn’t. When my asthma is flaring, I do fewer reps. I don’t strain or push myself over my limit. I think I’ve gotten to understand my body and know what it needs.

I had a difficult experience with asthma while participating in water sports for school.

We were paddling an obstacle course in the water, and I didn’t know if my asthma inhaler was waterproof or not, so I left it on the shore. Midway through the obstacle course, I started feeling tight. I was like, ‘I’ll just swim back,’ but I didn’t realize how much effort that would take.

As I was swimming to shore, I was trying to carry a raft through the water and ended up just holding onto it. It carried me to shore because I was starting to feel really lightheaded and dizzy. I couldn’t even talk to anyone. I was like, ‘I just need to get my asthma pump right now.’

That was very scary, especially because it happened while we were camping, so I was away from my parents and my usual teacher who knew about my asthma. I hadn’t thought to tell anyone about it, so no one knew what was going on — and I couldn’t really explain it while I was having an asthma attack.

I got so stressed and anxious from that experience that I tried to avoid water sports afterward.

But now, I’m trying to get back to water sports. I try to keep my asthma inhaler in a waterproof bag and make sure that it’s on me at all times. I always thought nearby would be OK, but it has to be on me. It’s also important to inform someone nearby you about your asthma.

I’d like to see more video content for kids.

I remember when I was growing up with asthma, I didn’t really understand it. Even though I asked a lot of questions, many adults would explain it to me in a way that would go over my head. So I never really understood my triggers or how to help myself.

After we’d come home from the doctor, my mom would go through all the information they’d shared and would try to make me read it, too. And I got so bored after reading the first paragraph. I just wanted something short.

Then one of my pulmonologists helped explain my asthma to me with 3-D models. She explained everything in such a simple and fun way and made it really understandable.

Now I try to create fun, entertaining content that I would have appreciated when I was younger. My main focus is short-form video content because a lot of people are more likely to watch something than read it, especially in younger generations. I post that content on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

I want to spread awareness in a fun and entertaining way and also give representation — to show other kids or young adults like me that they can have active, happy lives with asthma.

When I first started out exercising, I faced a lot of fear. My parents were very fearful and tried to convince me not to play sports to avoid any triggers. But my pulmonologist explained to me and my parents that exercise is good, and that really helped.

At first, getting active is going to feel stressful, but it gets better over time. You see athletes, like David Beckham, who are so accomplished and living their best lives, who also have asthma. It shows we can persevere.

Shivaika Sewlal

Shivaika Sewlal is a 22-year-old lifestyle content creator in Capetown, South Africa. She lives with asthma, eczema, and multiple food allergies. When Shiv was growing up, she didn’t see a lot of online representation of people with these allergic conditions, which left her feeling alone. Now, she creates social media content that showcases her leading a happy, healthy life, with the hope that she can help other people with allergic conditions feel positive about their own lives as well.