If you have asthma, you’re likely familiar with the fact that exercise can potentially exacerbate your symptoms.
What can be confusing for people with asthma is that healthcare providers and medical literature often recommend exercise to reduce the severity of the condition, yet running with asthma can sometimes cause a notable worsening of symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
So, can you run with asthma? Is running with asthma safe? Are there ways to make running with asthma more comfortable?
This guide will explore the benefits and risks of running with asthma and how to do so safely to help all runners with asthma breathe easy and approach running feeling safe and confident.
We will cover:
- The Challenges of Running With Asthma
- Can You Run With Asthma?
- Benefits of Running If You Have Asthma
- 12 Tips For Running Safely With Asthma
Let’s get started!
The Challenges of Running With Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by inflammation, narrowing, and swelling of the airways. Along with increased mucous production, these airway abnormalities can cause wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, rapid respiration rate, and frequent respiratory infections.
Because running is a cardiovascularly-demanding form of exercise, running with asthma can be difficult as any airway narrowing and breathing restrictions make it harder to effectively and efficiently get enough oxygen for your heart and working muscles at a reasonable respiration rate (without needing to hyperventilate).
Moreover, the nature of asthma as a condition is that symptoms usually ebb and flow, and specific triggers, such as dust, cold air, mold, smoke, and pet dander, can cause “attacks.” Unfortunately, exercise falls among the top triggers for asthma attacks.
In fact, exercise is such a frequent trigger for asthmatic symptoms that there is an entire diagnosis separate from asthma that only pertains to people who experience asthma exclusively while exercising. Asthma experienced while exercising is termed exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or exercise-induced asthma, for short.
Whether you have general asthma or exercise-induced asthma, running with asthma can trigger your asthma symptoms. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath typically begin within 5-20 minutes of starting your run and resolve shortly after stopping.
Can You Run With Asthma?
The good news is you can run with asthma. More importantly, you can run safely with asthma, particularly if you take a few precautions and work with your doctor. In fact, running can actually help you control your asthma symptoms over time.
Benefits of Running If You Have Asthma
Running with asthma can undoubtedly pose challenges, but there are also benefits to gain by running if you have asthma.
In addition to reaping all the expected benefits of running, such as improving the health of your heart and lungs, increasing muscular strength and definition, improving mood and decreasing anxiety, building bone density, and burning calories, running can be helpful to those with asthma by helping control asthma symptoms in the following four ways:
#1: Running Can Improve Asthma Control
Improvements in asthma control reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. This can help you feel better physically and reduce your anxiety surrounding potential asthma attacks while running or simply going about daily life.
#2: Running Can Improve Lung Function
Unfortunately, asthma is inextricably categorized by poor lung function. However, research demonstrates that engaging in consistent physical activity can improve lung function and curb or slow down the average age-related decline in lung function in people with asthma.
#3: Running Can Increase Your Maximum Oxygen Uptake
Running with asthma can be difficult as it can impede your ability to get enough oxygen due to constricted airways.
However, the good news is that the improvements in cardiovascular fitness that occur with running—particularly in terms of strengthening your lungs and improving lung capacity—translate to increases in oxygen uptake. The better your oxygen uptake, the more oxygen you get per breath, the less effort it takes to breathe.
Studies show that aerobic exercise yields a statistically and clinically significant increase in cardiopulmonary fitness as measured by maximum oxygen uptake in people with asthma. This means that these improvements positively affect health‐related quality of life.
#4: Running Can Decrease Airway inflammation
According to a 2015 study, aerobic exercise can help reduce inflammation in the airways. This can ease the symptoms of asthma, which are caused by airway inflammation.
Airway inflammation is a hallmark sign of asthma and causes wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, particularly when running with asthma. However, running can help reduce chronic airway inflammation in people with asthma.
For example, one study demonstrated that a 12-week aerobic exercise program reduced markers of airway inflammation in patients with asthma. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness improved, as did the asthma-related quality of life scores.
12 Tips For Running Safely With Asthma
The following tips can help you run safely with asthma:
#1: Consult Your Doctor
If you have asthma or have concerns that you might have asthma, it’s good to talk with your doctor before starting a running routine. Your doctor can work with you to make an appropriate training and treatment plan to make running with asthma safer.
#2: Make An Asthma Action Plan
Doctors use the term “asthma action plan” to describe a plan with specific preventive measures to control your asthma symptoms and limit attacks, as well as intervention measures should an attack occur.
Creating an asthma treatment plan with your doctor that includes strategies for running with asthma will give you more confidence in your ability to have safe and effective workouts.
For example, your doctor might prescribe a daily inhaler to help prevent asthma symptoms while you run along with a rescue inhaler to carry along with you while you run in case your symptoms flare-up.
#3: Let Weather Be Your Guide
Running in the cold or when it’s scorching hot and humid can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Check the weather before running and consider treadmill runs on days with temperature extremes.
#4: Avoid Pollution
Run indoors when the air quality is poor. Smog, pollution, traffic, and haze can trigger asthma symptoms.
#5: Check Pollen Counts
Running with asthma can be challenging on spring days when the pollen count is high, as pollen can trigger bronchial spasms and airway irritation. Again, consider indoor runs on the treadmill on days when the pollen count is high.
#6: Warm Up and Cool Down
#7: Run With a Buddy
Run with a friend to have someone there if an emergency arises.
#8: Carry Your Phone
Have emergency contacts at the ready to give you peace of mind.
#9: Don’t Forget Your Rescue Inhaler
Bring it in a waist pack or pocket.
#10: Shower Right After Running
Showering after running minimizes the effects of any lingering allergens on your body to have a better run the next day.
#11: Wear A Mask
In cold weather, or when pollen counts or pollution is high, wear a mask to help filter the air.
#12: Listen To Your Body
Use effort rather than pace to guide your workouts. Listen to your breathing, and note any signs of an asthma attack, such as faster breathing, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.
Stop and walk or sit down and take your rescue inhaler if you notice signs.
Follow these tips to safely and successfully add running into your routine.
If you are looking for a beginner program to get going, look at our Couch to 5k training plans to start gradually. Of course, consult your medical professional first to get the go-ahead!