The 13 Best and Worst Workouts for Asthma from The 13 Best and Worst Workouts for Asthma

The 13 Best and Worst Workouts for Asthma

Asthma symptoms do not make exercise ideal — that we’re sure you already know. But dealing with exercise-induced asthma doesn’t mean physical activity is out of the question. Once you receive a proper diagnosis and strategic treatment plan from your doctor, you’ll find that working out, playing sports and participating in other activities can actually become enjoyable again. Of course, part of that treatment plan might include avoiding activities or specific workouts that can trigger asthma symptoms.

“Since asthma is an inflammatory response in the lungs, it’s best to not cause them to become overworked,” explained Rui Li, owner of CakeFit and a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified trainer. “Anaerobic activities such asweight trainingPilates and calisthenics would be ideal.”

It’s not surprising that most of the experts we talked with recommend workouts and activities that keep intensity to a minimum, but just because you suffer from asthma doesn’t mean faster, more challenging workouts are totally off limits.

“Sports that include short, quick bursts of exertion are generally safe,” said Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractor, licensed dietitian nutritionist and certified nutrition specialist.

It’s endurance sports, like long-distance running, or activities where intense exertion is sustained over a longer period, that asthma sufferers typically don’t tolerate as well, he explained. Additionally, another factor that many often overlook, Schreiber said, is the outside environment.

“Outside activity during allergy season can really aggravate the condition,” he said. “In addition, some asthmatics respond negatively to humidity.”

Ultimately, your doctor will be your best resource when it comes to establishing an effective asthma treatment plan, but when it comes to exercise, part of that will include a bit of trial and error as you test out which types of workouts and activities you personally tolerate best. To help you get started, here’s a look at what experts say are some of the worst and best workouts for asthma sufferers.

Endurance Sports, Like Distance Running, Soccer and Basketball

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For those who suffer from asthma, Schreiber advised against activities that require long bouts of endurance. The constant, heavy breathing necessary to sustain such activities tends to dry out and irritate the airways. That said, as Mark Holbreich, M.D., an Indianapolis-based allergist, pointed out to Healthan activity like long-distance running, especially if you really enjoy it, isn’t entirely out of the question. You just need to work with your doctor to make sure you’re being treated properly and effectively.

Circuit Training

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Li suggested asthma sufferers steer clear of high-intensity workouts, like circuit training routines, which typically require the exerciser to sustain an elevated heart rate and heavy breathing for extended periods of time, with little amounts of rest. 

Interval Training

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Interval training is similar to circuit training in that it often requires high levels of intensity with only short bouts of rest in between. For this reason, Li also mentioned interval training as a workout to avoid if you suffer from asthma.

Intense Cylcing

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While recreational, easy-paced biking is actually recommended as a beneficial form of exercise for those who suffer from asthma (and everyone else, too), for the same reasons endurance and high-intensity activities should be avoided, fast-paced cycling or cycling over difficult, hilly terrain is probably not the best choice if you want to avoid inducing asthma symptoms.

Cross Country Skiing and Other Winter Sports

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Lianne Marks, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas told Health that cross country skiing may actually be one of the absolute worst options for asthmatics. The combination of sustained strenuous activity and cold air is essentially a perfect storm for drying out and irritating airways. 

Outdoor Activities, Especially During Allergy Seasons

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Even for those who suffer mostly from exercise-induced asthma, Schreiber warned not to discount environmental factors. He noted that seasonal allergens can certainly further aggravate symptoms. “In my part of the country on the East Coast, the spring allergy season and summer heat and high humidity are pretty bad for people with asthma,” he explained. For this reason, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to whether or not your symptoms worsen during certain times of the year, and if so, also make note of weather reports to find out what allergens are most prevalent in your area. 

Swimming

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Most asthmatics will find that moderate-paced swimming is one of the most tolerable activities. The warm air paired with the gentle nature of the activity makes a great combination. And, as Holbreich pointed out to Health, maintaining a horizontal position may also help to loosen-up any mucus in the bottom of your lungs. However, be aware that chlorine can potentially trigger an attack. If you can smell the chlorine it’s likely there may be too much for your lungs to handle. 

Weight Lifting

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Both Schreiber and Li suggested traditional weight lifting or resistance training as a smart exercise option for asthmatics. The anaerobic nature means it’s not likely your lungs would become irritated, plus, it’s a great way to build strength and stamina and is linked to a long list of additional health benefits.

Yoga

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Another low-key but still challenging form of exercise, among many other advantages, yoga offers the benefits of building strength, balance and flexibility without irritating your airways. Plus, as Robert Graham, M.D., an internist and integrative medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City pointed out to Health, yoga typically involves breathing exercises as well, which can help to activate more areas of the lungs.

Pilates

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Similar to yoga, but with a slight advantage for building more strength and lean muscle mass, Li also suggested Pilates as an excellent form of exercise for asthmatics.

Start-and-Stop Sports Like Baseball and Volleyball

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Holbreich told Health that, in general, activities where an elevated heart and breathing rate are sustained for five or more minutes generally aren’t ideal for those who suffer from asthma. Instead, sports with a “start-and-stop” nature and longer periods of downtime are better choices when it comes to avoiding an asthma attack. For this reason, Schreiber recommended sports like baseball, volleyball and football.

Walking

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Like swimming, yoga, Pilates and weight lifting, walking is a low- to moderate-intensity activity that most asthmatics will find is entirely tolerable. In fact, one study found that adults suffering from asthma who walked three times a week over the course of 12 weeks (30 minutes at a time with five minutes warming up and five minutes cooling down) were able to improve their asthma control and increase their fitness levels without instigating an attack. Just be sure to keep outdoor allergens in mind. 

Golf

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Golf involves intermittent bouts of low-intensity activity — driving, putting and walking the course aren’t likely to induce an attack. But again, do be mindful of outdoor allergens as golf is, for the most part, and outdoor sport.