Cardiovascular Exercise With Asthma

Asthma is a medical condition in which the sufferer often experiences a wheeze in the chest, difficulty breathing and sometimes a cough.  While different people experience these symptoms to varying degrees, most of the time asthma can be well enough controlled with medication and a healthy lifestyle.

Inflammation of the bronchi is what causes asthma.  The bronchi are the tubes that are responsible for supplying the air to the lungs. When the symptoms are triggered, there is a tightening of the airways which can result in increased shortness of breath and a tightening of the chest.

There are several different things that can set off an asthma attack, often referred to as triggers.  Different types of weather, humidity and even allergies can have an effect on breathing and can cause an attack.

The main focus of this article will be to highlight a few things for asthma sufferers to consider before undertaking any cardiovascular activity.

Before you begin

It is of extreme importance that your asthma is well controlled in your day to day life before you make an attempt to exert yourself more than normal.  If you feel that your asthma is not very well controlled, consult your doctor to see if there are any changes that can be made to your medication before you undertake any exercise that may aggravate your condition.

Once you have found the right medication that works for you, you can start to think about exercising.  Always make sure that you have your medication (usually in the form of an inhaler) with you when you are going to try any sort of physical activity.

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you avoid exercising at times when you maybe have a cold as this can affect your breathing even before you exercise.

Chronic asthma sufferers

If you have a chronic form of asthma, start off with very gentle exercise to see what your lungs can handle -walking is an ideal way to get started.  You can set our own pace and distance and it’s a good way to monitor progress as your fitness levels increase.

You should try taking a dose of your inhaler before you start and that can ease the effect exercise has on your airways.  If you know what triggers your asthma it’s obviously a good idea to try to avoid these when exercising.  For instance, some people find that a high pollen count can trigger their symptoms, so check the pollen levels before you start.

Exercise-induced asthma

If this is the form of asthma that you suffer from, it’s usually a good idea to take a dose of your inhaler before you begin a cardiovascular workout.  People who suffer from exercise-induced asthma tend not to have any issues with their breathing day to day but do tend to struggle with shortness of breath whilst working out.

Many people with this form of asthma find that swimming is easier on their lungs than the likes of running or cycling.  Usually, this is because the heat in the pool area is quite warm and breathing warm air is easier on the bronchi.  The only thing about swimming in a pool is that the chlorine can trigger symptoms in some people.

Assess your fitness level

If you attend a gym and have access to a personal trainer or gym instructor, see if they will assess your fitness level and they can tailor a work out to suit your needs.  Using equipment like the treadmill or cross-trainer is great for setting your speed and resistance and can give you a great idea of how much exercise you can do before it has an effect on your breathing.  It’s also easy enough to monitor what distance you can cover and the number of calories you are burning.

Set yourself a Target

It’s always good to set yourself goals in life and you should try and have the same attitude towards exercise.  No one should expect to be as fit as a top athlete their first time trying in the gym or out for a run.

Set yourself small goals to start with and exercise as frequently as you can and you will soon see the results of your hard work.  Not only will your general fitness level be better but you’ll find that your lungs can handle much more than they previously did.  Reaching your fitness and health goals can feel extremely rewarding as well they should, but it is important to set new goals so as not to rest on your laurels.

If you are overweight

Asthma can be worsened by a higher BMI and cardio exercise along with a healthier diet can be beneficial to everyone, not just asthma sufferers. Losing some excess body fat can do wonders for reducing your asthma symptoms.


  • Consult your doctor before you commence
  • Make sure your asthma is stable prior to attempting a new cardio workout
  • ALWAYS carry your medication with you when you exercise and possibly even try taking it prior to exercise
  • Avoid exercising in areas that may trigger your symptoms or if you are not at full health eg. a cold
  • Set goals and meet them but do it at a pace to suit your medical needs


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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