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Treatment & Prevention

Can People With Asthma Play Sports?

Asthma and Athletes

People with asthma can do more than play sports: They can be really good at them. Lots of elite athletes have asthma, and some have won Olympic gold medals.

Even if you don’t want to be a professional athlete, you benefit from being active and playing sports. Sports keep you fit. They help you to stay at a healthy weight. Exercise also strengthens the breathing muscles in your chest. If you have asthma, this is very important because it can help your lungs work better.

Sports have great emotional benefits, too: Exercising causes the body to produce endorphins, body chemicals that can help people feel more peaceful and happy. Exercise helps some people sleep better. It can even help with problems like mild depression: People who feel strong and powerful can see themselves in a better light.

Which Sports Are Best?

Some sports may be better choices for people with asthma. Golf, yoga, and gentle 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.

Some sports may be more challenging for people with asthma. These include endurance sports like long-distance running or cycling or sports that demand a lot of energy without a lot of rest time (like soccer and basketball). Cold-weather sports like cross-country skiing or ice hockey also can be difficult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do these sports if you truly enjoy them.

Many athletes with asthma have found that with proper training and the right dose and use of medicine, they can play any sport they want.

Heading Off Problems

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 medicines that your doctor prescribes.

If you take long-term control medicine, you’ll need to use it even when you feel OK. Skipping these daily medicines can make symptoms worse. Forgetting to take your medicines before exercise can lead to severe flare-ups. You may even need to go to the ER.

Have your quick-relief medicine with you at all times, even during workouts. That way you can take it if you have a flare-up.

Talk with your doctor about your plans to play sports or work out. Your doctor might add some workout strategies to your asthma action plan. These may be things like:

  • 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
  • making time for a careful warm-up and cool-down

Make sure your coach and teammates know about your asthma. That way they’ll understand when you need to stop working out or 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: January 2014