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How to Exercise in Winter with Asthma

Reading time | 4 mins

I aim to keep active all year round, but it’s definitely much easier to motivate myself to head outside when it’s sunny and warm outside rather than during the depths of winter. For a lot of people – myself included – cold weather can be a trigger for asthma symptoms and you may notice that you struggle with exercise more.

According to Asthma UK, asthma symptoms can worsen in cold weather, because:

  • When cold air gets into your airways it can trigger them to go into spasm, causing asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.
  • On still, cold days air pollution can sometimes be worse.
  • During the winter, it’s likely that more colds and flu viruses are going around.

So whether it’s icy-cold with snow on the ground, or damp and foggy, it’s important to think about how we continue to exercise safely. For me personally, cold weather can definitely aggravate my asthma symptoms and make it much harder to breathe. Sometimes I have to opt to run indoors until the temperature increases.

9 asthma-friendly tips for exercising outdoors

In saying this however, I definitely prefer getting outside as opposed to being stuck within the boring four walls of the gym. So, here are some ways I’ve managed to handle my asthma symptoms, while still being able to enjoy exercising outdoors.

  1. Wear a buff or scarf around your face. I also try to breathe through my nose to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.
  2. Make sure to layer up, particularly over your chest. I find this helps enormously if I just keep the area warmer - gilets are a great option!
  3. If necessary, use your reliever inhaler before a run. I take mine 15-minutes before I leave the house to help open up my airways.
  4. Warm up slowly. I always make sure to spend time indoors warming up. I also speed up gradually - don’t start with an uphill sprint!
  5. Rest when necessary. Listen to your body and if you notice your breathing becoming laboured or you feel faint, then STOP and take a break. I always make sure to carry my phone, inhaler and emergency ID just in case.
  6. Avoid cold drinks which cool your airways and chest when you swallow them. Instead, I pour warm water into my bottle before I leave the house. This eventually cools down enough for me to drink it but prevents it from being ice cold (and it also has the benefits of warming my hands).
  7. Try not to run first thing in the morning when temperatures are at their coldest. I schedule my runs for weekday lunchtimes or mid-morning on the weekends.
  8. Don’t rush through your cool down. I also make sure to avoid sudden changes of temperature in my airways, by taking at least 10-minutes for my cool-down period.
  9. A warm shower or bath post-workout helps me to raise my body temperature slowly, and eases my breathing after a run.

Try some indoor alternatives

Finally, remember that having asthma doesn’t have to be an obstacle to exercise. Taking these extra precautions during the winter means that I’m able to continue to enjoy the fitness activities I love. But if you are looking for some alternatives to pounding the pavements, why not try one of the below?

  1. Take your running to the treadmill or your cycling to the turbo trainer. If I’m honest, I find running on the treadmill pretty boring, so I try to do intervals or hill sessions. I vary the speed and incline to keep things interesting.
  2. Do a DVD/YouTube video. From high intensity interval training (HIIT) to yoga, there are a huge range of options available online which will suit all interests and schedules. I have a saved playlist of my favourite yoga routines, which are great to turn to on a rest day or after a workout.
  3. Mix it up with some indoor cross-training. Sometimes I head to a climbing wall, an exercise class, or a badminton court to help change things up. Why not rope in a friend and try something new!
  4. Make up your own indoor circuit. From simple bodyweight exercises, climbing stairs, using bean cans as weights, and skipping in your living room, the possibilities are endless. Get creative with whatever you have to hand!
  5. Sneak some more activity into your daily routine. I’m very aware of how inactive I can be during the day when I’m working in an office. So I make a point to get up at regular intervals to go and make a drink or to speak to colleagues rather than just sending emails. I also try to take the stairs instead of the lift. If you can, maybe get off the train or bus a stop earlier and walk the last stretch to work.

The takeaway

Exercising in the winter doesn’t have to be impossible, and the good news is, your asthma is less likely to be triggered by cold weather if it is well controlled.

As well as following some of my tried-and-tested tips, always make sure to regularly take your preventer inhaler to help avoid your asthma symptoms from worsening. Also, always carry your reliever inhaler at all times when exercising.

UK/MED/19/0314 December 2019