All About Asthma and Exercise

Written by Kirsten Nunez

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in your lungs. It makes the airways inflamed and swollen, causing symptoms like coughing and wheezing. This can make it difficult to breathe.

Sometimes, aerobic exercise can trigger or worsen asthma-related symptoms. When this happens, it’s called exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).

You can have EIB even if you don’t have asthma.

If you do have EIB, you might be hesitant to workout. But having it doesn’t mean you should avoid regular exercise. It’s possible for people with EIB to workout with comfort and ease.

In fact, regular physical activity can decrease asthma symptoms by improving your lung health. The key is to do the right kind — and amount — of exercise. You can determine what this looks like for you by working with a doctor.

Let’s explore how exercise affects asthma, along with ideal activities for people with the condition.

Can exercise stop asthma symptoms?

Some types of exercise can reduce or prevent asthma symptoms. They work by making your lungs stronger without worsening inflammation.

Specifically, these activities minimize symptoms because they:

  • Increase endurance. Over time, working out can help your airways build up tolerance to exercise. This makes it easier for your lungs to perform activities that usually make you winded, like walking up stairs.
  • Reduce inflammation. Though asthma inflames the airways, regular exercise can actually decrease inflammation. It works by reducing inflammatory proteins, which improves how your airways respond to exercise.
  • Improve lung capacity. The more you work out, the more your lungs get used to consuming oxygen. This decreases how hard your body must work to breathe on a daily basis.
  • Strengthen muscle. When your muscles are strong, the body functions more efficiently during everyday activities.
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness. Exercise improves the overall conditioning of the heart, improving blood flow and the delivery of oxygen.

Breathing exercises

In addition to physical activity, certain breathing exercises can also reduce asthma symptoms. These methods help by opening the airways, moving fresh air into the lungs, and reducing the effort of breathing.

Examples of breathing exercises for asthma include:

However, it’s still important to take your medications as directed. This is the best way to control asthma symptoms, especially during exercise.

What exercises are best for people with asthma?

In general, the best exercises for asthma involve brief bursts of exertion. Gentle, low-intensity activities are also ideal. These exercises don’t overwork your lungs, so they’re less likely to cause asthma symptoms.

Everyone is different, though. Be sure to consult your doctor and pay attention to your body.

You can try:


Swimming is one of the most recommended exercises for people with asthma. Compared to other activities, it’s less likely to cause asthma-related symptoms due to:

  • moist, warm air
  • low pollen exposure
  • pressure of fluid on the chest

Despite these benefits, chlorinated pools can cause symptoms in some individuals. Use caution if you’re new to swimming in pools.


As a low-intensity activity, walking is another great choice. This form of exercise is gentle on the body, which makes it easier to breathe.

For the most comfortable experience, only walk outside when it’s warm. Dry, cool air can trigger or worsen your symptoms. You can also walk on a treadmill or indoor track.


Another option is to enjoy a gentle hike. Choose a trail that’s relatively flat or has a slow, steady incline.

If you have allergies, check the local pollen count before hiking. Only hike if pollen levels are low.

Recreational biking

If you have EIB, try biking at a leisurely pace. This is another gentle activity that doesn’t involve constant exertion.

You can also do indoor cycling on a stationary bike.

Short-distance track and field

If you’d like to run, opt for short-distance running activities such as sprints.

Long-distance running on a track or outside may not be recommended in people with more uncontrolled asthma due to the ongoing effort required.

Sports with short bursts of activity

The following sports are appropriate for people with asthma. These activities involve intermittent breaks, which are gentler on the lungs.

  • baseball
  • gymnastics
  • volleyball
  • golf
  • football

How can you tell if it’s asthma or you’re just out of shape?

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if your symptoms are caused by asthma or just being “out of shape.” In both cases, the usual symptoms include:

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