Can you run with asthma? Yes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things to take in to considerations as exercise can make it worse for many people.
Running can IMPROVE lung function, but it usually doesn’t feel that way when we first start out.
Running does not increase the capacity of your lungs, that’s largely determined by body size. But it can help your lungs to perform better over time per a study by Harvard Health. That means more oxygen getting to the muscles and simply starting to feel easier.
Breathing better is much like running itself.
You start to get better at finding your easy pace, which means you start to regulate your breathing instead of panting or gasping.
So let’s talk about how to know what triggers asthma symptoms like pollution, allergies, or cold weather and some smart effective strategies for running safely with asthma.
How To Breathe While Running With Asthma
The basic goal of breathing is to take oxygen in to the body and then distribute it to all of our cells. We need that oxygen for our muscles to function and their best and then the exhale to clear out the CO2 build up that can make muscles burn.
Running can cause ANYONE to feel short of breath.
But exercise-induced asthma has a few additional symptoms which usually appear the longer you go:
- Chest tightness
If you feel like this is happening to you a lot, please start with a doctor. Get their specific advice.
If you’ve been there already and are looking for more tips and guidance, then onward!
Great graphic from Asthma Inspiration
Have an Action Plan
Runners are kind of bullheaded sometimes. Right?
We just want to keep pushing through thinking that it always makes us tougher and stronger. But when your body is screaming stop, you can’t ignore it.
- Always carry your rescue inhaler (grab a hydration pack or running shorts with pockets).
- Take any necessary medications at least 30 minutes prior to running. Some runners have found success with a preventer inhaler prior to running
- WARM UP!!! We talk about the warm up for muscles, but it has been shown to help with your breathing as well.
- Monitor your effort and keep a log to know what triggers you and listen to your body!
- And finally…get out of your head. I know there are nerves, so know that every new runner feels that.
Olympian Paula Radcliffe is one of the most recognized runners with Asthma. Here take is that it just makes her work harder!
“I take my peak flow readings regularly to make sure I’m always getting the right level of treatment. When training, I take my preventer inhaler first thing in the morning, and I always take my reliever inhaler before I start exercising.”
What if you have an asthma attack while running?
If you do have an attack while running, use your inhaler and try to remain calm. It may take 20-30 minutes for the symptoms to fully dissipate.
This is a great time to utilize that Uber app on your phone!
Check the Air Quality
Unfortunately, due to pollution and wildfires, many of us have become more familiar with the impact of poor air quality on running.
- Start with an app like AirNow.gov and see what the current air quality level is before starting your run.
- If it’s yellow, maybe do a short or very easy run.
- Anything orange or red, move your workout indoors to avoid asthma issues.
- Running after it rains is often a great way to get a good clean air run.
- Try running on trails to avoid any additional pollutants from cars.
Cold Weather Running
If you’ll be running in the cold or the air is very dry (hello Colorado winter), this can make it harder to breathe while running.
- Check the weather for the week so you can plan to move around your big days if needed.
- Try wearing a buff or my favorite balaclava hoodie to keep your mouth covered which will help to warm up and moisten the air before it enters your lungs.
- Stick to easier runs on these days or move your intense effort indoors.
Allergies and Running with Asthma
Very similar to air quality, we want to look at pollen counts and other potential triggers.
For me ragweed or trees sprouting results in crazy itchy eyes and a runny nose. So again if you have a journal you may be able to notice that certain allergens bother you while others don’t.
- Take allergy medications at least 4 hours prior to running. Odd study showed that taking them too close to running impaired breathing.
- Perhaps another good time to run with a buff to filter the air coming in to your lungs!
- Use a nasal spray pre and post run.
- Run AFTER it rains to get the best air!
- Take a shower post run to clean any of the particles out of your hair and off your clothes so you don’t continue inhaling them all day, which will make allergy asthma worse that day and the next.
Here’s a good pollen chart from UK Asthma.org to give you ideas of what to track so you can see what bothers you.
Practice Breathing Exercises
Since I’ve written a detailed post about breathing techniques from pursed lip breathing to box breathing, I won’t rehash it all here.
The goal is to help you learn to breathe through the diaphragm so you are getting a full deep breath and not a shallow one. This can help with perceived exertion, which will help prevent an attack.
✅Learn how to breathe while running >>
People with asthma can absolutely exercise. Most doctors encourage physical activity to help improve all kinds of things from stamina to healthy weight to that incredible runner’s high!
Just know that when you start running it’s going to be tough because it’s tough for all of use.
Don’t be afraid to walk, to build in more days of lighter cardio workouts and keep building up your stamina slowly to prevent frustration.
More tips for getting started:
- Couch to 5K Plan
- How to increase running endurance
- Tips for running with allergies
- Benefits of long distance running
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