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Why You Should Try Running to Reduce Asthma Symptoms

Emilie was diagnosed at 12 with asthma and has spent years learning how to manage her symptoms through lifestyle and minimal medication.

Learn why running can help relieve your asthma symptoms

Learn why running can help relieve your asthma symptoms

Asthma runs in my family, and I've had it since childhood. Before I exercised nearly every day, I had constant breathing problems. Cleaning was hard, allergy season was a nightmare, and physical activity was my kryptonite.

I've always been interested in running, but I had struggled to do it regularly. Last year, I decided to run multiple times a week and have loved it ever since.

I've learned that the stronger my heart and lungs are, the better I feel. I don't need my rescue inhaler as often and have cut down on my maintenance medication.

Getting started is never easy. Asthma makes it doubly difficult, but it is possible!

Taken on an autumn run along Shingle Creek in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Taken on an autumn run along Shingle Creek in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

How to Start Running

There are three important elements to starting any workout routine: start slow, take it easy on yourself, and listen to your body.

1. Start Slow

Remember that your body isn't used to exercise, so if you push too hard too fast, you will hurt yourself. When I first established my routine, I aimed for three runs per week. In the beginning, that resulted in one or two. Once I got up to three, I kept increasing until I got out six or seven days out of the week.

I also walked more than I ran at first. The walk/run cycle helps your body acclimate to exercising for longer periods of time. As my endurance increases, I am slowly adding more miles. Remember, progress is more important than perfection!

2. Be Kind to Yourself

Our minds are sometimes harder on us than our bodies. It's easy to beat up on ourselves, but we need to remember we're all at different points on our own paths. The fact we're trying to get healthier is a huge step.

Asthma makes this even harder because, regardless of what we do, sometimes our lungs don't want to cooperate. Even with my improvements, I still get frustrated when my lungs don't want to stay loose. That usually happens when I don't eat properly, get enough sleep, am sick, or don't pay close enough attention to air quality.

I had also made the mistake of comparing myself to other, more seasoned runners. We each need to go at our own pace, and everyone starts out slow.

3. Listen to Your Body

Running and cardio exercise helps with disease management, but it's not a cure for most people. If you feel your lungs tightening, slow down, take a break, and follow your asthma management plan.

The same goes for new aches and pains. Foot, leg, and back pain could come from your shoes. It could also be because you're not stretching enough. Remember, when something hurts, it's your body telling you that you need to pay attention to it.

If the pain is severe or doesn't improve, it's best to get checked out by a doctor.

Tucking my rescue inhaler into my running belt.

Tucking my rescue inhaler into my running belt.

What Running Supplies Do You Need?

As with all sports, runners need specific gear to successfully do their sport.

1. Running Shoes

The shoes are arguably the most important part of your workout gear. They offer support and cushioning for your feet, which then translates to better stability and lower impact on your joints. When I first started running, I made the mistake of using the old sneakers I'd had for years. My knees hurt, my ankles felt weak, and my lower back felt terrible.

Once I got a new pair of shoes made for running, I felt better almost immediately. If possible, it's worth it to get fitted by a podiatrist.

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Some shoes are better than others for different terrain, too. Road or sidewalk running puts more pressure on joints, so the shoe needs extra cushioning. Trail running requires a tougher shoe to stand up against hazards in nature.

2. Running Belt or Backpack

You'll need to carry a few things with you: phone or other music listening device, water, rescue inhaler. If you're trail or road running, you'll also need your keys, ID and insurance card. I've tried leggings with pockets with limited success. I have a running jacket, but that's not feasible in the summer.

I've been using a running belt and carrying a bottle of water. There are also running backpacks with a built-in water reservoir.

3. Running Clothing

Although there is clothing made for running, you could run in anything as long as it's comfortable. I prefer leggings or shorts and a t-shirt or tank top. Colder months call for layers or my winter jacket, scarf, gloves, and hat. I cover my nose and mouth when it gets cold enough to stop cold-induced attacks.

I haven't found good shoes for ice, and attachments like YakTraks don't work well on slick spots. When the terrain is too dangerous, I run indoors. There are of course treadmills, but sometimes sports stadiums and other venues host indoor running days for the general public.

I have recently come across a brand of workout clothes I really enjoy, Just Strong. That is an affiliate link, but I do love that brand. That's were I got the Progress Not Perfection tank top.

4. Water

It's best to carry water with you whenever you run. It helps prevent cramps and dehydration, but it also helps increase your endurance. In summer, it helps stave off heat illnesses, like exhaustion and stroke. However, if the conditions are too hot for you, either run indoors or take a rest day. Running is supposed to improve your life, not put it at risk.

Stretches for Runners

Running Prep and Cool Down

Before running, stretch and warm up your muscles. When you get out on the trail or the treadmill, walk briskly for five minutes before your first running cycle.

Asthma takes a little extra care. Take your rescue inhaler before your workout, especially in the beginning. When you become more experienced, keep it on hand and always watch for air quality warnings.

Once you reach the end of your course, walk for five more minutes to cool the muscles down and stretch again. Stretching afterwards reduces soreness, cramps, and risk of injury.

It's also worth researching better nutrition. Magnesium and vitamin D are two of the more common dietary deficiencies. Ask your doctor for advice regarding those two, especially if you're in an area where you don't get much sunlight or you don't eat many fruits or veggies.

Research body working on a regular basis. Massage therapy is great for athletes, but acupuncture is also a great option. Health insurance companies rarely cover these services, so they can get expensive. That's where schools come in. Bodyworker students need a certain number of clinic hours before they are certified. These students are just about to graduate and work under the supervision of their teachers, so the quality can be as good as a beginning massage therapist. Since they're not yet licensed, the fee is far lower, but the service is still safe.

Running can be a great and affordable, option for people with asthma to help control their symptoms. Getting started can be difficult, but these steps can make it easier!

Me ready to go on a run in my favorite tank top.

Me ready to go on a run in my favorite tank top.

My Running Belt

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on July 24, 2019:

A lot of fitness tips for anyone with chronic illness of any kind also applies well to folks without them. I've noticed the same thing in regards to teaching techniques for kids with learning disabilities. Many of them improve learning outcomes for the rest of the population, too. Great that you jog and walk, though! Everyone has their own favorite way to exercise. :) Thank you!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 24, 2019:

This sounds like good suggestions for those without asthma as well. Fortunately I do not have it. I do not run ---do jog a bit but mainly I walk a lot. It is so good for me for so many reasons Angels are on the way ps

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on July 24, 2019:

Thank you! It has helped in other ways, too, but for the purposes of this article, I figured I'd just stick with the asthma angle. I'm glad you liked it!

Lorna Lamon on July 24, 2019:

I am so glad you have found such a beneficial way to improve the symptoms of asthma. Your article is informative and inspirational.

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