Phlo Perspectives: keeping fit with asthma - Dylan's story

June 14, 2023
10 minute read

Asthma is a very common lung condition and around 5.4 million people in the UK receive treatment for it.

Living and keeping fit whilst managing asthma can be very challenging, depending on the stage of asthma you may have and your lung function measurement. Like with most respiratory conditions, every day can be a struggle because it directly affects lung function.  

We sat down with Dylan to hear his insights into some of the challenges he faces with exercising with asthma. Dylan’s insights offer a unique perspective on not letting asthma take over your long-term fitness goals.

Asthma is different for everyone, what type of asthma do you have?

According to Asthma + Lung UK and my GP, I have difficult asthma. This means I have symptoms more than three times a week, use my reliever inhaler three or more times in a week, and wake up at night because of asthma symptoms one or more times a week.

How can exercise help people with asthma improve their lung function?

Exercise helps improve the amount of oxygen the lungs can carry at any given time (known as lung capacity). As your heart rate increases with exercise, it also helps increase blood flow to the lungs. Increased oxygen and blood flow can improve your overall health. Regular physical activity benefits your lungs by strengthening the muscles around them and throughout your body. This increased strength enables your muscles to function with less oxygen, resulting in more efficient breathing during movement.

On a personal level, since taking my fitness levels seriously, I have noticed a massive difference in my breathing and overall cardio performance. At first, I would have to take my salbutamol inhaler before and during workouts - a lot more than my recommended dose. Now that my fitness levels have improved, I have found that I don’t use my inhaler as much.

What are some of the challenges that people with asthma may face when trying to stay active?

Personally, it’s endurance. When I put a larger focus on my fitness levels my biggest struggle was spending time on my cardio. Whether it was the treadmill, cycling or the rowing machine, I had a hard time staying on these machines for long. At this point, it’s very “make or break” as in the past I’ve tried to put focus on my fitness but gave up quickly since it can be such a knock to your confidence.  

Other asthma sufferers with more severe symptoms might have to avoid certain high-intensity exercises, for example HIIT training or running. In this case, the suggestion is to identify and engage in activities that are less likely to provoke asthma attacks, such as swimming or walking, while still providing an adequate workout.

What are some examples of low-impact exercises that are suitable for people with asthma?

When starting to exercise with a lung condition it’s good to take little steps at first before rushing into the gym. This could mean doing something as simple as getting off the bus a stop early or putting that bit more effort in when doing your housework. At first, I started to pay more attention to my fitness tracker on my smartphone, which helped me set a goal for how many steps I take daily. Even if it’s 1,000 more steps a day it can help improve your fitness.

Traditionally, swimming has been recommended for most people with lung conditions as the warm and steamy conditions are less offensive. But there are considerations to take into account if you do decide to use swimming as your primary fitness method.

  • Before entering the water, always take a shower to help ensure the best water conditions.
  • Always keep your ‘reliever’ inhaler readily accessible by the poolside.
  • Use your reliever inhaler (as prescribed) before starting your swim, this goes the same for most exercises.
  • Implement the 'nose' test. If you detect a strong chemical odour after spending more than three minutes in the pool area, it could indicate an imbalance in pool chemicals or issues with ventilation. In such cases, it is advisable to limit your time in the water and inform the pool management promptly.
  • Remember to warm up and cool down adequately.
  • If swimming aggravates your asthma symptoms, it may be an indication that your current treatment needs optimisation. Consult your GP or Pharmacist for more advice.
  • Avoid swimming when your asthma symptoms are bothersome or if you have a severe cold.

Meet the Phlo Pharmacist

Can you explain why it's important to carry an inhaler during exercise?

During exercise, the body's demand for oxygen increases, and the breathing rate and depth also intensify. This heightened respiratory activity can potentially trigger symptoms in individuals with underlying respiratory conditions.

These inhalers contain medications such as salbutamol or terbutaline, which work by relaxing and opening the airways, allowing for improved airflow and alleviating symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath.

By using an inhaler before exercise, individuals can prevent or reduce the likelihood of experiencing exercise-induced respiratory symptoms. It helps to optimise lung function, ensuring that the individual can participate in physical activities without undue discomfort or risk of complications.

Can you offer any additional tips or advice for people with asthma who want to start exercising more regularly?

Like Dylan said, motivation is key, but don't go rushing into fitness goals you aren't ready for. Make sure to take everything bit by bit and you'll feel a difference as the months go on.  Also, make sure to start every exercise with a warm-up. You can find online warm-up exercises to suit you and work through step-by-step.

If you want to talk about exercising with asthma or other lung conditions, get in touch with our friendly pharmacy team who can offer you advice and guidance.

Content last reviewed on:
June 14, 2023
Next review date:
June 14, 2025
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