Asthma: nature’s cruel joke. Trying to workout with asthma? Nature’s even crueler joke! Am I right? (We both know I am.) Trust me, asthma is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I’ve been where you are, I AM where you are, I will be where you are tomorrow, next month, and five years from now.
I have had asthma for as long as I can remember. I brought my inhaler and spacer to kindergarten with me where it lived on my teacher’s desk until after recess or PE when I would most surely need a puff. However, I’ve also been active for most of my life. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and made mud pies and rode horses with my brother, played youth league sports as a youngster, and was a cheerleader and basketball player in junior high and high school. Track and cross country running is where I drew the line because my asthma was always a limitation. To me, this is funny because I’ve ran more miles, done more sprinting, and jumped higher/broader than I ever did as a teenager. In 2014 I successfully trained for and completed a half marathon — something even my most athletic peers from high school have yet to attempt.
So what changed? How did I discover how to workout with asthma, and generally just enjoy life more? I did not “grow out” of my asthma, as many people tend to do. As I see it, two major things shifted in my adult life. I began to “know my body”, which definitely includes my chest and lungs, and I learned to work with my asthma, rather than against it.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. What follows are simply strategies that have worked for me throughout the last 28 years.
ESTABLISH A REGIMEN
This makes all the difference. Modern medicine is a great thing and has made great strides. I have a group of daily prescribed medications I take, as well as some OTC meds to supplement my routine. A lot of my asthma is allergy related (yay, Texas!), so I take a daily Zyrtec to help control my year-round allergies, as well as maintain my asthma. I take these medications regardless of whether it’s a workout day or a rest day, so this routine not only helps me workout with asthma, but make it through life with less attacks.
TAKE IT SLOW
As with any routine, it may not be smart go all-in right away. I used to feel so much shame for taking walk breaks during running, or extending my rest time between sets. This issue was as much mental for me as it was physical. Once I stopped shaming myself for taking the breaks my body needed, I was able to build up the endurance necessary to complete the activities I set out to tackle. When I started running, I used the Couch-to-5K program and I think the built in walk breaks provided not only helped me build up my running endurance, but helped me build up my asthmatic endurance. Remember, there is no shame in giving your body the rest it needs.
TAKE A PUFF BEFORE STARTING YOUR ACTIVITY
This doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot. If you start to struggle shortly after beginning your activity, try taking a puff of your emergency inhaler before starting your workout. This can sometimes help to head off symptoms before they start.
WHEN AN ATTACK HITS, TAKE YOUR TIME GETTING BACK INTO THINGS
I mentioned that a lot of my asthma symptoms are allergy related. This can mean that I struggle more at different parts of the year than others, especially depending on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing! If my allergies are exceptionally irritated, or if I’ve been suffering from a cold, it might mean taking an extra rest day. That’s something I still struggle with, but I know it’s better to take the time my body needs to heal than to stop every five minutes to catch my breath or use my inhaler.
FIND AN ACTIVITY YOU ENJOY
Whether you play pick-up basketball (like my brother, who is also asthmatic!), run miles upon miles, or gargle your heart in crossfit, finding a workout you enjoy is important. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to seek out ways to overcome your obstacles. My turning point was finding group fitness! I loved the classes I was attending and I never wanted to stop participating!
Do you have asthma? Do you have other health issues making fitness difficult? How do you overcome those obstacles?