Exercise and Moderate Asthma

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Asthma is a condition that affects many individuals in the UK of all ages. It is a chronic respiratory disease with symptoms including coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing and rapid breathing. The severity varies from one individual to another, provoked by allergies, stress and in some instances exercise. Individuals suffering from moderate asthma are safe to undertake moderate exercise.

It is known that exercise can induce asthma, known as exercised induced asthma (EIA). Despite this, it is safe and extremely effective in controlling and reducing the severity of asthma attacks. There is no evidence that exercise should be avoided for asthmatics, in fact it is known to improve oxygen consumption, improve Heart Rate (HR) and maximum ventilation.

Exercise Programming for those with Moderate Asthma

Individuals with moderate asthma (30-50% FEV1) embarking on a new exercise programme should have a 6-week introductory period where they learn to self monitor their asthma during exercise using the Rating of Perceived Exercise (RPE).

Rating of Perceived Exertion Chart

Rating of Perceived Exertion Chart

Using this chart individuals should assess the intensity of their breathlessness.

Because there are external factors that influence asthma, there will be occasions when exercise will be more difficult. Research suggests that the best time to exercise is mid to late morning, with exercise being avoided in high and humid temperatures.

Once the 6-week introductory period has been achieved and individuals are able to self monitor, aerobic exercise should be undertaken 3-5 days per week, 30+ minutes, with intensity at RPE chart 11-13 (comfortable pace). It may be necessary to have shorter sessions initially with the aim to increase duration rather than intensity. Breathing should be monitored using the RPE scale. The types of aerobic exercise should include:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming

High impact exercise such as running, circuit classes should be avoided because of the sensitivty to Dyspnea.

Strength and weight training can be undertaken, but again your focus should be on increasing the number of repetitions (duration) rather than intensity (heavy weights). Strength training is recommended 2-3 days per week, ideally using free weights such as dumbells.

Warm up and cool down exercises should be undertaken for 3-5 minutes either side of the main exercise components.


Aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming are likely to cause in some cases exercise induced asthma (asthma brought on by exercise). Individuals using medication such as albuterol are advised to take 10 mins prior to exercise. If you become symptomatic during exercise, you are advised to repeat medication.

Individuals who suffer from mild Asthma (50-80% predicted FEV1) can undertake exercise for the obese.

About the Author

David Vidgen has nearly 18 years experience in the Fitness Industry. Having completed internationally representing Great Britain and England in the Decathlon (track and field). I am an expert in fitness training, weight loss and physical conditioning.

I am a qualified ACSM Health and Fitness Instructor (HFI).

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