Increasing your physical activity can actually be hugely beneficial if you are struggling to control your asthma.
If you are living with asthma, you may find yourself avoiding physical activity for fear of triggering an attack. Whilst it may come as a surprise, increasing your physical activity can actually be hugely beneficial if you are struggling to control your asthma. Regular physical activity at the correct intensity has been shown to help improve asthma symptoms, as well as reduce major asthma attacks, by improving lung function, boosting the immune system and supporting weight loss.
Whilst building up your levels of activity may seem daunting, it is important that you don’t let concerns about exercise induced asthma or ‘making things worse’ stand in your way.
It’s useful to think about the difference between more strenuous exercise – like heading to the gym – and more moderate ‘activity’ (like a walk to work), which can also be of great benefit.
Here, we talk about trying to build up activity in a way that’s right for you. If you are in any doubt about a suitable level of exercise for you, it’s essential you speak with your doctor.
High profile athletes, like footballer David Beckham and runner Paula Radcliffe, manage sporting careers alongside their asthma.
But building up your own activity doesn’t need to be about breaking world records. What’s important is that you set your activity at a level that’s right for you. Setting targets that stretch you without overexerting yourself can be a good way to feel you’re making progress.
Remember that it’s all about your personal best – you’re not competing against anybody but yourself, and it’s about improving your own levels of activity.
One way to arrive at a target that is right for you is to check that it's SMART.
Some people love the gym, while some never will, which is one reason they are much busier places in January than in the spring. Keeping up any exercise or activity is bound to be harder if you don’t actually enjoy it.
Studies have found we’re more likely to stick with an activity we enjoy2. So it’s worth taking the time to think of an activity you’re going to want to do.
This might be as simple as walking to work, which could be an opportunity to listen to some music, or a team game that offers the chance to catch up with friends.
Team Wheezy is a roller derby team, founded by asthma patient Krista Harrison, and is made up entirely of people with asthma. You can find out more by watching this video on the Asthma UK YouTube channel.
It’s about finding what is right for you.
Your goal doesn’t need to be tearing around a roller derby rink if this isn’t right for you. There are some simple steps you can take that will add up to greater levels of activity over time.
Could you take the stairs instead of the lift at work, for example? Could you get off the bus a stop or two early to walk the rest of the way? Or take a short walk during your lunch break? It’s about finding what is right for you.
If more strenuous exercise is for you, this checklist1 from Asthma UK may be helpful.
If it's cold, wrap a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth to warm the air before it gets to your airways.
If it’s really cold and you know that cold air triggers your asthma, it might be best to stick to indoor activities until the weather warms up again – why not try yoga, running on a treadmill, using a workout DVD at home, or even roller derby, like Team Wheezy (above)?
If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, avoid exercising outside when the pollen count is high and make sure you’re taking the right medicines to treat your hay fever alongside your usual asthma medicines.
Keep an eye on high pollution days so you can switch to indoor activities if possible. If you do need to exercise outdoors go out earlier in the day when the air quality is better, avoid main roads, and keep your workout short.
Warm up before you start, with a walk or a jog to warm up your muscles and include some stretches before and after exercise to help with your flexibility and the range of movement in your joints.
Tell people about your asthma, whether it’s your fitness instructor or your exercise buddy, so they can recognise your asthma symptoms and help you if they get worse.
Make sure you have an up-to-date written asthma action plan so you know what to do if your asthma symptoms come on.
Activity can help to control your asthma, but you may have some concerns about making it happen. It’s very important to speak with your doctor about finding a level and type of activity that’s right for you.
More information and guidance on how to manage your asthma whilst exercising can be found on the Asthma UK website.
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Avoiding exercise? If you’re looking after your asthma well, regular physical activity can actually help improve asthma symptoms. Learn how to increase your activity level in a way that’s right for you.