Exercising with Asthma

Exercise can be challenging enough for many people but for those who suffer from asthma it can be especially difficult.  Many of my clients have had asthma and I know for some of them it was quite daunting getting into exercise.  Both the fear of triggering an asthma attack and not understanding or knowing what types of exercise might be suitable and beneficial can prevent many people from getting involved in regular exercise.

There are some great options to become involved in exercise and movement without igniting the fear of an asthma attack – here are some of my favourites for getting started.


This is always a great option to include in any person’s routine and especially so for someone with asthma.  The focus in a yoga practice is really centred on breathing and controlling the breath which helps immensely with asthmatic symptoms – studies have shown that people who regularly practiced yoga for two-and-a-half hours a week or more were able to cut down on their asthma medication (please consult with your medical practitioner before adjusting or altering any of your medications).  Yoga also has a positive effect on our stress levels by improving our body’s response to stress and ability to manage it, which in turn can help manage asthmatic symptoms.

Tai Chi, martial arts, Pilates

These are all great options to consider as they also involve focusing on the breath to some degree as well as ensuring correct posture and movement.  I am a big advocate of ensuring any exercise or movement is performed in optimal postural alignment and in a controlled, focused manner to be as effective as possible for both body and mind.  This also helps to open up the ribcage and chest, allowing for improved breathing both during exercise and outside of exercise time. 


This might be a little boring for some but is a great, easy way to ensure we stay active and mobile.  It’s easy to stay on the couch or catch the lift rather than get up and move or take the stairs, and especially so if you feel it may tax you or cause you to have breathing difficulties. Rest assured, we are designed to move and popping in small, incidental movement such as walking around the block at lunchtime or taking the stairs can really help those who suffer from asthma.  It boosts your immune system, reducing your risk of any other respiratory conditions and helps your become accustomed to movement, allowing the body to reap the benefits without the fear or stress that can come with more structured or intense exercise.

Weight Training

According to health specialists, as a general rule, any activity where your heart rate and breathing rate are elevated for at least 5-to-6 minutes continuously is more likely to trigger asthma symptoms than stop-and-start activities. Weight training is an excellent option for exercise as it can allow you to stop and start as and when you need by adjusting your rest intervals between sets.  You could begin with 1-2 mins between each exercise as a rest period to focus on your breath before performing another set of the exercise.  It also helps to build muscle which will help manage weight, which can worsen asthmatic symptoms in some.  Many people shy away from weights, but they are a fantastic option for nearly everyone including those with asthma.  Please be sure to consume water when training as dehydration can exacerbate exercise-induced asthma.


While this may not be something that pops to mind straight away when thinking of exercise options, it is actually a great way to include exercise in your daily life while making some allowances for any breathing challenges.  The stop-and-start nature of the game allows you to take time, recover and breathe as well as being able to go at a leisurely pace and enjoy the surroundings and fresh air. Best of all, you can take this sport up at any age and make it part of your social calendar very easily. 


While different people will find some exercise more comfortable than others, it really is about taking some time to find something that you enjoy and feeling safe doing. All the experts agree; movement and exercise are paramount for a healthy body and healthy mind.


Lee-Anne Wann is a fitness specialist, nutritionist, presenter and author. She currently runs a health and fitness consultancy business providing companies and organisations with health, nutrition and wellness solutions and content, she also runs a private nutrition practice and was a television host for TVNZ’s ‘Kiwi Living’.