Asthma and Physical activity
Asthma should not prevent you from being regularly active. Most people with asthma can still perform at the highest level of sport and athletics. If asthma is triggered with exercise, use prescribed inhalers before and during your session. Conditioning your body through regular activity makes asthma attacks less likely over time. 1 You will also feel less short of breath as your physical capacity improves with regular activity. Exercise becomes easier and so more enjoyable to do. Don’t let asthma prevent you from being healthy: keep active.
Regular physical activity also gives you more energy, builds confidence and can help you to sleep more soundly at night. Combine your activity time with family and friends or use it as an opportunity to reflect on things and listen to your favourite music.
Physical Activity Recommendations for inactive adults with AsthmaAim to do the following three types of activity:
- Aerobic activity at relative moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least five days each week.
- Muscle strengthening activity on two or more days a week which work all major muscles groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulder and arms)
- Flexibility exercises on a daily basis
The Three Types of Activity and Asthma
You may find the following weekly approach useful if you have been inactive for a while.
Aerobic activity, also known as endurance activity, is when large muscle movements, maintained over a period of time, make the heart and lungs work harder.
Activity? – Any type that you can maintain comfortably is ideal. Choose exercises that you enjoy, such as walking, cycling or group fitness classes.Team sports, like football and rugby, which are played with brief bursts and short breaks in between are can be ideal. Swimming is also a good activity because the warm, humid swimming pool helps prevent symptoms (however some people find that very cold or heavily chlorinated water triggers their asthma).
How long (duration)? – You can split your total activity amount into minimum bouts of 10 minutes if needed. If you have been inactive for a long time, start with short daily amounts and increase this as your body allows and you feel more confident. Remember not to sit for hours. A regular break from sitting every hour is healthy.
How hard (intensity)? – Progress slowly to a relatively moderate-intensity activity. When doing moderate intensity activity you will feel warm, mildly out of breath and mildly sweaty. The ‘talk test’ is a simple way to measure moderate intensity. This means that you can still talk, but not sing, during the activity.
How often (frequency)? – If you aim to do 30 minutes per day then do this at least 5 times per week so that you reach the 150 minutes total per week. Distribute the sessions over the week and aim to have no more than 2 consecutive days without physical activity. When you start any new activities make sure you give your body enough time to recover and adapt between sessions.
Once your aerobic fitness improves, consider adding strength training on at least 2 days a week. Improved muscle tone can also help you gain better shape and improve the way you look and feel. Stronger, larger muscles use up more calories for energy so it can help you maintain your body fat. Some activities, such as climbing stairs, digging the garden or walking up hill, combine aerobic and muscle strengthening types.
These activities should work all the major muscle groups in your body such as legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. When strengthening a muscle group, begin by familiarising the movement with little or no load.
If you are using weights such as dumbbells, try to do at least 1 set of 8-12 repetitions per activity. The correct weight choice is the one which is hard to complete by the end of the set. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like doing a sit up or bicep curl.
Daily flexibility exercises can prevent pain, stiffness, and injury of muscles and joints. People often experience a sense of wellbeing and relaxation during flexibility exercises. Simple flexibility exercises for daily use can be seen at www.prescription4exercise.com. Yoga, Tai Chi and pilates are examples of some activities which combine strength and flexibility as well as balance training. Some people find that Yoga stretches, which are performed in harmony with breathing, are beneficial for asthma.
- If you have led a very sedentary lifestyle, begin by doing low intensity exercise of short duration, e.g. 10 minutes. Increase your level of activity gradually to avoid injury
- Stop exercising if you feel dizzy, sick, unwell or very tired.
- See a doctor if you are having chest pain, black outs or breathlessness on mild exertion.
- Always have your reliever inhaler with you when you exercise. If exercise triggers your asthma, use your reliever inhaler before you warm up.
- Do a gentle warm up.
- Try to avoid things that trigger your asthma. Cold, dry air can be a trigger in many people so you may need to take regular breaks. Increased levels of pollen in the summer months may be another trigger.
- Avoid physical activity if your asthma is severe or uncontrolled by your medicines at rest.
Please see the following safety considerations if you have other long term health conditions.
- Angina (Coronary Heart Disease)
- Previous Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
- Cardiovascular Risk
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
DisclaimerThis leaflet has been provided for information only. ALWAYS check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment. Prescription4exercise.com is not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for ANY form of damages whatsoever resulting from the use (or misuse) of information contained in or implied by this information.
- Start Active, Stay Active – a report on physical activity for health from the four home countries ‘ Chief Medical Officers. UK Department of Health, July 2011. www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_128209
- ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, American College of Sports Medicine, 2009
- Swedish National Institute of Public Health. Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease. Professional Associations for Physical Activity, Sweden, 2010. Asthma. 232-241. www.fyss.se
Other useful sites
- Morton AR et al. Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science position statement on exercise and asthma Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 2011; 14: 312-316 ↩