Can People With Asthma Play Sports?

Asthma and Athletes

People with asthma can do more than play sports: They can excel at them. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, asthma affects more than 20% of elite athletes, and 1 in every 6 Olympic athletes.

Even if you don't want to be a professional athlete, you can benefit from being active and playing sports. It will keep you fit, help you stay at a healthy weight, and even strengthen the breathing muscles in your chest. If you have asthma, this is especially important because it can help your lungs work better.

Sports have some fantastic emotional benefits, too: Exercising causes the body to produce endorphins, chemicals in the body that lead a person to feel more peaceful and happy. Exercise can help some people sleep better. It can also help with mental health issues such as mild depression: People who feel strong and powerful can see themselves in a better light.

Which Sports Are Best?

Some sports are not as likely to cause problems for people with asthma. Golf, yoga, and leisurely biking are less likely to trigger asthma flare-ups. Sports like baseball, football, gymnastics, and shorter track and field events tend to be good for people with asthma, too.

Endurance sports, like long-distance running and cycling, and those that require high energy output without a lot of rest time, like soccer and basketball, may be more challenging for people with asthma. This is especially true for cold-weather sports like cross-country skiing or ice hockey.

But that doesn't mean you can't participate in these sports if you truly enjoy them. In fact, many athletes with asthma have found that with proper training and medication, they can participate in any sport they choose.

What Precautions Should You Take?

Before playing sports, your asthma must be under control — in other words, you shouldn't be having lots of flare-ups. The best way to get asthma under control is by following your action plan and taking all asthma medication as prescribed — even when you're feeling OK.

Skipping controller medication can make symptoms worse. Forgetting to take a prescribed medication before exercise can lead to severe flare-ups and even emergency department visits. You should carry rescue medication at all times, even during workouts, in case of a flare-up.

Talk with your doctor about your plans to play sports or work out. He or she may suggest some workout strategies. Depending on your triggers, this may mean skipping outdoor workouts when pollen or mold counts are high, wearing a scarf or ski mask when training outside during the winter, breathing through your nose instead of your mouth while exercising, or making sure you always have time for a careful warm up and cool down. These suggestions should be listed in your written action plan.

Make sure your coach and teammates know about your asthma and understand when you need to stop working out and what steps to take if you have a flare-up. After a while, you'll become good at listening to your body so you'll know how to avoid or handle asthma problems at a game or practice.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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