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The Best Exercises for Asthma

Published : Tuesday May 3, 2016 | Posted in : Asthma

There is a common misconception that exercise can be harmful to individuals dealing with asthma. This is because asthma is known to trigger breathlessness, as well as other triggers associated with asthma. However, the reality is that if you have asthma, or even exercise-induced asthma, regular exercise can help to avoid triggers and keep asthma symptoms at bay. Exercising regularly can also have additional benefits, as it can:

  • Improve your overall health
  • Improve your mood
  • Give you more energy
  • Regulate your sleeping pattern
  • Controls your weight
  • Combats health conditions and diseases
  • Reduces stress levels

It is of course important to know which forms of exercise you can participate in when you have asthma. Exercise can improve and strengthen your lung function and in time it can make you more tolerant to the effects of exertion. The types of exercise listed below are all appropriate for asthma sufferers to take part in:

"If your asthma is under good control, you can and should exercise normally. Exercising (when you have) asthma can help reduce your symptoms, improve your breathing, and reduce your stress and anxiety." Rachel Taliercio, DO, a lung and allergy specialist at the Cleveland Clinic


Yoga can be beneficial to individuals with asthma due to its positive effects on lung function and the symptoms of asthma. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on breath control, flexibility, strength and meditation. It originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago and is supposed to enhance both your physical and mental wellbeing.

A study carried out by the Cochrane research group has found evidence to support that yoga may be able to improve asthma symptoms and quality of life to a small degree. The study itself consisted of 15 trials carried out across Europe, India and the US on 1,048 men and women who had mild to moderate asthma whilst participating in yoga. Six of the trials specifically focused on the effects yoga had on breathing, with five of the trials showing that yoga did in fact reduce the impact asthma had on people's quality of life. However, this evidence is only considered to be 'moderate' in terms of quality, also, results varies with regards to yoga's ability to improve lung function.

Dr Zuyao Yang, the lead author from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, summarised these findings by stating that; "Yoga exercise may lead to small improvements in asthma quality of life and symptoms. However, it is unclear whether yoga has a consistent impact on lung function and we don't yet know if yoga can reduce people's medication usage, or if there are any side-effects of yoga for people with asthma". Therefore, it's likely that any affect yoga may have on the symptoms of asthma are likely to only be moderate in nature. This doesn't change the fact that yoga can make a difference, even if the difference is only small.


A recent study, conducted by Lisa M. Schwiebert, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham, has discovered walking can have a positive affect on asthma. The study found that asthma control and overall fitness levels amongst the adults who took part in the study saw an improvement. The adult participants walked three times a week for twelve weeks in total. Lisa M. Schwiebert, PHD has gone on to state that the exercise consisted of a 'moderate-to-brisk walk'; therefore, this exercise wouldn't have to be too excessive in order to see a difference in the severity of asthma symptoms.

However, it should also be noted that 'Warming up is really important because it will help your tolerance', as stated by Lianne Marks, MD, Scott & White Healthcare. This means that your warm-up routine can be just as important as the exercise itself when attempting to alleviate your asthma.


Cycling is another activity that you can take part in if you have asthma. Cycling along at a slow and steady rate shouldn't harm your asthma in any way, but any faster than 18 miles per hour can potentially be harmful (according to Dr. Holbreich). This reason behind this is that your rapid breathing can possibly trigger an asthma attack as a result of your airways becoming dry. It's also important to plan out your route before heading out for a cycle, as travelling up and around steep hills and curves can cause your breathing to become much heavier.


Swimming is an activity that can be highly beneficial because the horizontal position that you take whilst swimming can loosen the mucus located in the bottom of your lungs. The effectiveness of swimming is supported by Dr Holbreich, who has stated, "The ideal sport for asthmatics is swimming because you're breathing in air that is highly humidified and often warm". When going for a swim it's important that you stay clear of pools containing excessive amounts of chlorine because it can be considered a trigger for asthma attacks.

Team sports

Team sports, as well as being great fun, can improve your overall health and enhance your fitness levels without having to negatively affect your asthma. This is because your activity is staggered and you are sharing the field/pitch/court with others, taking breaks at appropriate times during the game when the ball isn't in play. However, sports that encourage constant movement throughout a game, such as football and basketball, can be an issue. Appropriate team sports for individuals with asthma can include:

  • Volleyball
  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Tennis (can play doubles for less intensity)
  • Squash (can play doubles for less intensity)

These sports can be beneficial because the bursts of energy required for these sports aren't usually too intense and you can take a rest between games. For racquet sports in particular you can control the pace of the game, so that you aren't exerting too much energy.

Controlling asthma during exercise

Now that you know about the types of exercise that you can partake in, there are a number of tips that you should consider, so that you can stay safe and get the most out of your exercise.

Tips to consider before exercising
Talk to a doctor before deciding on the best exercise plan for you to follow Use pre-exercise medicine, such as inhaled bronchodilators or cromolyn
Don't exercise outdoors if you have allergic asthma When dealing with a viral infection, lessen the amount of exercise you do
Include warm-up and cool-down periods before and after exercise Exercise indoors when the weather is significantly cold
Keep a rescue inhaler at hand If you experience asthma symptoms, stop and follow your asthma action plan (as provided by your doctor)

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