Physical Activity for People with Asthma

 While exercise may be an asthma trigger for some people, research indicates that it is possible to build up tolerance to physical activity over time, making an attack less likely.  In addition to reducing the risk of developing many other diseases, appropriate exercise can help individuals with asthma maintain a healthy body weight, boost immunity, reduce stress, sleep better and feel more energized.  The key is to keep one’s asthma under control through proper treatment and precautions. 

Celso R.F. Carvalho Ph.D., P.T., P.E., did research on the benefits of aerobic exercise training in patients with persistent asthma.  He found that aerobic exercise training can be performed even by patients with severe asthma if they are clinically stable (without crisis).  During the study, some patients complained that they could not walk two blocks without experiencing asthma symptoms; however, after three months, most were exercising at high intensity without any symptoms. 

Dr. Carvalho gave three suggestions to other healthcare professionals: 

  1. It is important that all health professionals prescribe/indicate/orient their patients to keep moving.
  2. We must gradually dispel the misconception that most asthmatic patients should be restricted from physical activity during their lifetime.
  3. We should perform other studies to evaluate the benefits of other types of exercise, allowing patients to choose specific sports that they enjoy and that will benefit them.


Exercise recommendations for people with asthma


  • Schedule your exercise session at a time when you’re least likely to experience an attack, such as mid- to late-morning.
  • An extended warm-up and a gradual cool-down may help reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms.
  • Realize that it might take up to six weeks to get used to your routine and figure out what works best for you.
  • Be prepared to adjust your workouts according to changes in weather and fluctuations in your symptoms.
  • Start slowly and gradually progress the intensity and duration of your workouts.
  • Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.
  • Talk with your healthcare professional before starting an exercise program and ask for specific programming recommendations and possible changes to your medications.
  • Take all medications, as recommended by your physician.
  • Your exercise program should be modified to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risk of aggravating your health condition.


Exercise cautions for people with asthma


  • Avoid extremes in temperature and humidity.
  • Walking and jogging, particularly in warm, dry climates, may produce more asthma symptoms.  The same is true for cold-weather, high-intensity activities.
  • If exercise aggravates your symptoms, immediately stop all activity and contact your healthcare practitioner as you may need more intensive medical management for your asthma.
  • Limit your activity on days when pollen counts are high.
  • Don’t be concerned if you are unable to reach the higher end of your target heart-rate range–you still experience significant benefits from physical activity.


Source:  Exercise is Medicine

*Celso R.F. Carvalho Ph.D., P.T., P.E., Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, School of Medicine, at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Active Voice:  Understanding Physical Activity for Asthmatic Patients.  American College of Sports Medicine – Sports Medicine Bulletin.

World Asthma Day – May 3, 2011


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