The wind whipping past your face; a thumping, pumping heart; and that exhilarating feeling: all are the hallmarks of a good running session. For one in 12 people in the US, however, that feeling seems unattainable due to asthma.
Asthma is a lifelong condition that is characterized by a chronic inflammation of the airways, leading to feelings of breathlessness and a tightness in the chest, as well as wheezing and coughing. The number of diagnoses is rising, and so too is the level of concern—according to the latest statistics, more than half of people with asthma had an attack in just one year.
An asthma attack, also called a flare-up or acute asthma exacerbation, occurs when the airways contract and become even more inflamed, resulting in difficulty breathing. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed with the right medication and by avoiding the triggers—one of which, unfortunately, is exercise.
Exercise-induced asthma (also called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or EIB, the preferred term by medical professionals) occurs with strenuous physical activity, e.g. running. About 90% of people with asthma have EIB, but not all people with EIB actually have asthma.
Symptoms of EIB include all the characteristics of an asthma attack—shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing—but can also feature an upset stomach and decreased physical endurance. Some people with EIB or asthma avoid running or even exercising all together, simply to avoid the often very frightening consequences.
Should You Run With Asthma?
Exercise is not outlawed for those with asthma—in fact, it’s recommended! Regular exercise can help improve the strength and capacity of the lungs, and even reduce the symptoms of asthma. According to research on the effect of physical exercise on asthma, physical exercise usually only leads to an asthma attack if the condition is not well managed, the activity was too intense or if the air was just too cold—otherwise, exercise can actually be part of your overall asthma maintenance plan.
Top 5 Tips for Running With Asthma
Those with asthma don’t have to confine themselves to sitting in a sterile indoor room. That said, some sports are reported to be better suited for those who suffer from asthma, such as swimming—the humid, warm air does not commonly trigger attack—or sports that require small bursts of energy. Exercise that requires continuous movement, such as soccer and running, more commonly trigger attacks.
But some of the most well-known athletes in the world (in fact, asthma is actually more prevalent in athletes than non-athletes) are asthma sufferers in those very sports: soccer star David Beckham and Olympic gold medalists Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Paula Radcliffe.
Yes, you can run with asthma. But to do it safely, it’s important to take some precautionary steps and run the right way.
- Make sure your asthma is managed well. If you’re not taking the right medication or are experiencing frequent attacks, it’s important to first get your asthma under control before undertaking any physical activity. Your doctor may prescribe you an inhaler, oral medication or a combination; you should also ask your doctor how often you should go in for a checkup, often ranging from every one to six months if the asthma is under control.
- Check the weather. Cold air can trigger asthma attacks, so running outdoors in the winter is sometimes best avoided. If you just can’t stay inside, wrap a breathable scarf around your mouth and nose to keep the air you breathe warm.
- Check the air quality and pollen count. Some of the most common asthma triggers include air pollution, smoke and fumes, as well as allergies. Check the outdoor air quality and the pollen count, and adjust your running schedule or route—rush hour brings more air pollution, and grassy, tree-lined paths harbor more pollen—as needed.
- Carry your inhaler. Some doctors recommend using an inhaler before physical activity commences as a way to prevent an asthma attack. Speak with your doctor about your exercise plans to ensure you are following your prescription. However, it is always recommended that you take your inhaler with you in case of emergency. The FlipBelt is the perfect way to carry your inhaler when running.
- Carry your cell phone. Even if you take all the precautions, sometimes an allergy attack can be too severe to manage on your own. Make sure you have your cell phone so that you can call (or text) for help. While it may seem like a lot to carry—an inhaler and cell phone, along with keys and whatever else you need—many runners with asthma depend on the FlipBelt to carry it all. And with its stretchy fabric and accessible pockets, they’re secure and easy to reach—an important factor when it comes to a sudden asthma attack.