Tips for Working Out with Asthma

I’ve had asthma my entire life and for as long as I can remember, I used it as an excuse to either put forward minimal effort or avoid physical activity altogether. Apologies* to my P.E. coach because not all of those wheezes were real.

Now that I’ve become a full-fledged adult who isn’t forced into physical activity, but chooses it to stay healthy and fit in her pants, I’ve had to learn exactly how I can manage difficulty breathing with exercise.

I’ve found the following tips helpful, but feel free to add anything I missed in the comments! And because I’m a paranoid attorney: I am not a doctor. You should consult with your doctor any time you take on a new workout program.

1. Prevention Inhaler

This pertains more to people who are just starting off, but when you know you’re doing a workout that will cause you to breath heavily (think running), just go ahead and take a puff or two of your inhaler about 5-10 minutes before you get going.

Preemptively using my inhaler allows me to start off feeling like I have more than enough room to breath. So when my breathing gets belabored as the workout progresses, I’m still getting enough airflow and not stopping to use my inhaler and let my heart rate come down.

This also allows me to CONTROL MY BREATH. The goal is to continue taking deep, slow breaths in and out, which is hard to do if you’re gasping for air.

2. Taking My Sweet-Ass Time

When I first considered attempting Couch 2 5k many moons ago, I complained to a runner friend that I just felt SO out of shape. I couldn’t keep pace. And I definitely couldn’t run for longer than 30 seconds at a time.

“OK, so maybe, like, slow down?” she said. “You’re not racing anyone. You don’t need to go at anyone’s pace but yours.”

It blew my mind. It was so simple, and I had been making it so hard on myself! I’ve taken that advice to heart in all types of cardio workouts, whether its running or HIIT cardio.

When my heart rate feels like it’s getting too high for me to control my breathing, I pause and walk in place to catch my breath before jumping back in. Who cares, right? This is about you and your health. You gotta do what’s right for you.

3. Modify, Modify, Modify

Listen, you’re going to get just as good a workout as you would if you raise up on your tip toes rather than jump. Your heart rate is still going to climb. You’re still going to sweat. You’ll still be sore tomorrow. There’s no shame in taking a modification if it allows you to complete a workout.

And you know what? Sometimes I need to modify the modifications! THAT’S OK, TOO. Your workout is about challenging your past self. Energy levels are like anything else; they change day-to-day. So if you can’t manage to go on your toes from a squat instead of jumping, it’s fine to just continue doing regular squats. Dat ass is still workin’, I promise.

4. Avoid Dairy

I love dairy. I will be the first to say it. But I also know dairy increases mucus production. When you already have a more narrow trachea than most people, that mucus can mean more of a problem for you than others.

For me, I avoid dairy for at least three hours before a workout. Yet I also know that some dairy foods affect me longer than others. Ice cream, for example, can still give me trouble a full 24 hours later.

So just be aware of your personal time limits when it comes to processing dairy. And if this isn’t an issue for you, well, congrats, I guess.


In case you missed tip four (or decided to ignore it altogether), make sure you’re drinking half your weight in ounces a day. Not to get a gold start from me or even because the rest of your body will function better with it… but because it thins out mucus.

Drinking plenty of water will help make whatever nasty, sticky mucus is already in your trachea thinner and, thus, less of a problem when you’re attempting to breathe.

And that’s all folks!

Any other asthmatics have workout tips or advice?


*Actually, I take it back. You were mean, and I regret nothing.

Jessie Da Silva

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