Asthma – Yes You Can Still Exercise

I am sure we all know someone who has asthma.  It seems to be one of those chronic diseases that, although common, often misunderstood.  I think it is also because of this misunderstanding that the severity and risks to health is often underestimated.

As a fitness coach as well as an RN, I probably err more on the conservative side with respect to asthma and its implications in an exercise environment.   I think that asthma is something that, on the surface  appears quite innocent, but in certain situations in the gym, can have serious implications.    As well, exercise induced asthma is quite common, and depending on the gym environment could also have implications.

For those reasons I felt a discussion about asthma might help "clear the air" (excuse the pun).

Asthma by definition:

Asthma is defined by the Global Initiative for Asthma as "a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways in which many cells and cellular elements play a role. The chronic inflammation is associated with airway hyperresponsiveness that leads to recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness,chest tightness and coughing particularly at night or in the early morning. These episodes are usually associated with widespread, but variable airflow obstruction within the lung that is often reversible either spontaneously or with treatment".

Doctors often define asthma as a "chronic inflammatory disease of the airway"

Wikipedia defines asthma as :   the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm.

Asthma causes shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing.  Asthma has no set pattern and its symptoms can range from mild to severe.  They also vary from person to person and can come and go in its frequency.  The symptoms also can vary from one episode to another.

Causes of Asthma:

Asthma symptoms have two main causes and both occur within the airways of the lungs.

In normal air function, air is inhaled through the nose and mouth.  It passes through the trachea.  Air then moves into the bronchi (the large airways) that branch off the trachea.  The bronchi then branch off into smaller tubes ending is small sacs called alveoli.  It is in this small sacs, or alveoli, that oxgygen exchange takes place.  Oxygen is passed into the blood while carbon dioxide is removed.

The main two symptoms are:

Airway Constriction:

This feels as a tightening in the chest.  The muscles around the airways of the lungs squeeze or tighten.  This "bronchconstriction" can make it hard to breathe.


Not as noticeable as airway constriction.  The airways are inflamed and they become swollen and irritated when asthma symptoms worsen.  Inflammation can reduce the amount of air that can be taken in with each breath in or out.  At times mucous production increases making it more difficult to breathe.
This inflammation may be present even when symptoms are not.




Exercise, Sports and Asthma:

If asthma is poorly controlled, you will be unable to exercise without symptoms.  This should be discussed with your doctor.  Once the asthma is under control, exercise is usually possible without problems.



Exercise induced asthma may occur due to sensitivity to temperature and humidity changes.  This can especially be a concern in cold temperatures if breathing in cold, dry air through the mouth.  Air that passes through the nose and not the mouth, is ormally humidified and warmed prior to reaching the lungs.

When exercising with astham it is important to keep in mind:

  • if using medication (puffers, inhalers) take your medication prior to starting exercise and have with you at all times.
  • start your exercises slows and take time to warm up and ease into more demanding exercises.
  • if symptoms develop while exercising, stop and rest.  Use your inhaler if needed.
  • be aware of certain times of year when pollen counts are high or pollution is high.  Exercise indoors if possible.


Till next time,



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