Running With Asthma: Success Stories & Tips

If you have asthma, you may think that running with asthma is an activity you will never be capable of doing. That is simply an untrue statement. If you take the proper precautionary measures, many people find that managing running and having asthma to be a very doable proposition.

Benefits of Running For Asthma

Running can actually help people to manage their asthma. It can strengthen the respiratory muscles, which can, in turn, make breathing easier.

asthma and running

Leading an active lifestyle can also help a person to maintain a healthy weight, which can lessen asthma symptoms.

Tips For Running With Asthma

Talk to Your Physician First

It is important to speak to your doctor before starting a vigorous exercise regiment, especially if you have a limitation like asthma. Your physician can give you good advice on how to manage asthma.

Check the Weather

Many runners find that different weather triggers different asthma and breathing reactions. Cold weather, for example, can cause a person to be more likely to have a breathing emergency.

running with asthma benefits

This is why runners with asthma are encouraged to be proactive in following the weather, to listen to their physician’s advice, and to take medication as advised.

Carry a Rescue Inhaler

Runners with asthma who have a rescue inhaler should carry it with them while running. A breathing emergency can go from mild to serious quite quickly without medical intervention.

Warm-Up and Cool Down

It is important to warm up and cool down before physical activity. When you have asthma, it is even more important. A Sudden change in your activity level is more likely to trigger an asthma attack.

Protect Against Pollen

In addition to watching the weather, watching the pollen count can be very helpful for a runner with asthma. Pollen is likely to impact a runner with asthma, so you may wish to run inside on high pollen count days.

Also, you should shower immediately after running and wash the clothes after each use to avoid pollen collecting on your apparel.

Wear an Emergency Medical Alert

If you have asthma, or any medical issue, you should always, always wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Kirsten Reynolds
Kirsten Reynolds

In the event of an emergency, you may be unable to tell someone trying to render assistance what your issue is or how to help you. A medical alert bracelet will do that important job for you.

Kirsten Reynolds is a former smoker turned athlete. She was diagnosed with asthma in 1993 and was given her first albuterol inhaler. In 2004 she quit smoking, but that alone was not enough to stop her symptoms. In 2009, she found running, and slowly, her body responded to the exercise.

Reynolds found that she needed asthma medication with far less frequency as she became more serious of a runner. Although, she did notice in winter months she was still medication dependent. Finding herself having coughing fits during cold weather, she relegated herself to just accepting that winter running was perhaps not her thing.

Recently, her family relocated to a much warmer climate, and her lungs rarely bother her anymore. Reynolds credits her quitting smoking, becoming a runner, relocation to a better climate, and use of mint tea as a homeopathic remedy for keeping her asthma at bay. She reports that her physician says her lungs seem to have healed.

Erin & husband Mark: running with asthma success story
Erin & husband Mark finish a race together

Erin Ginocchio was diagnosed with asthma at age 10 and has used a rescue inhaler since then. She remembers as a young girl being reliant on both preventative medications as well as the rescue inhaler. Furthermore, she recalls getting notes to excuse herself from any type of running or swimming activities while in school.

Flash forward to adulthood. Erin’s husband Mark, an avid runner, encouraged her to run. “I started out running halfway around the track,” she said. “I would walk halfway, then walk, then start running again when I could. I slowly built from there. I always needed to have my inhaler with me, but it became easier and easier with time.”

Ginocchio firmly believes that running has helped her asthma, but she is not cured by any means. She still struggles in heat and humidity. “I feel like I am trying to breathe underwater. I just cannot catch my breath running, sometimes even walking.” Erin is smart enough to walk when her breathing gets out of control.

“The dead of winter can be hard, but wearing a buff or balaclava helps with that a lot,” Ginocchio says.

She also discusses peak allergen season, when the pollen count is high. Ginocchio is smart and tries not to overexert herself in times like these.

Advice from Erin: “Don’t limit yourself. You need to take precautions, and you will inevitably face setbacks, but if you are patient with yourself and use your asthma medications properly, you can get there!”

Christine Dehn Xavier has had asthma since childhood when she dropped out of the swim team due to breathing issues. She was finally given an inhaler in junior high which helped her symptoms a lot. In her twenties, she started swimming again but always kept her inhaler in her workout bag.

Christine Xavier asthma runner
Christine Dehn Xavier

At age 33, Xavier adopted a dog that had more energy than anything, and she started on a C25K (couch to 5K) program to try to tire the pouch out. Xavier found that running to exercise her dog helped her breathing, so she started working with a coach, and the rest is history.

Xavier states, “running has made me realize I can do so much more than I realized by controlling my breathing.” She does state that when sick, things tend to settle into her chest. She is very likely to need a rescue inhaler plus steroids when battling illnesses that many people can just fend off.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

For some athletes, strenuous exercise can bring on something called exercise-induced asthma. It causes the airways in the lungs to narrow, resulting in shortness of breath and wheezing during or after exercise.

Technically, it isn’t exactly asthma; rather, it is bronchoconstriction. For people with this problem, their breathing difficulties can be taken care of with asthma medication.

You’re In Good Company

If you are a runner with asthma, you’re in good company. Olympic great Jackie Joyner Kersee had asthma who, as a child, was told she would never run. Basketball great Dennis Rodman also has asthma. Not only is running an asthma trigger, but swimming often causes difficulties. Olympic swimmer Pete Vanderkaay manages to swim while controlling his asthma symptoms.

Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, former Steeler football great, had an asthma attack during a nationally televised football game and publicly speaks out about the disease. His, and other great athletes, ability, and desire to bring this illness to the forefront has helped many people realize this is an obstacle they can be overcome.

Lauren Tamulevich, Kim Killen, Jamie Charter, Tricia Lynn Atwood
Lauren Tamulevich, Kim Killen, Jamie Charter, Tricia Lynn Atwood

Kim Killen (2nd from left) says, “I’ve had asthma since childhood. Paying attention to what I eat (less processed food), and drink (staying hydrated), and keeping my lungs strong (any aerobic exercise) helped alleviate my symptoms as much as the medications. I’ve been off daily meds for almost 10 years and keep a script for albuterol since I will still get flare-ups if I’m sick or don’t warm up before running in very cold weather.” 

Her biggest trigger is the allergy season, which twice has resulted in hospitalization. As a child, she was told not to engage in vigorous physical activity, which, thankfully, is outdated advice. An athlete who was discouraged from running at a young age went on to race the 400-meter dash in high school, then to compete in distance events as an adult. An avid swimmer and triathlete, Killen would tell you just to be smart and smash through barriers set forth by others.

Read between the lines: You CAN run with asthma!

One Step at a Time

The thing about running, on any given day all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other. If you happen to be a runner with asthma, you do need to take some extra precautions, but you can be a runner despite asthma. Just be smart and plan properly for every run to keep yourself safe.

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