Exercise as Medicine for Asthma

Being an Asthma sufferer since birth, Exercise and Asthma is subject close to my heart. Using exercise as a form of medicine for the treatment of my asthma is vital to allow me to complete my activities of daily living and participate in my sport and recreational activities. A recent Australian census concluded that 1 in 9 Australian adults and 1 in 7 Australian school-aged children (2.3 million people) have asthma (1). It was found that 34% of sufferers reported that their condition interferes with their daily living, and 22% of people aged 15-25 reported needing time off work, school or study due to their asthma (2, 3). Asthma is defined as a long-term inflammatory disorder of the airways and triggers such as cigarette smoke, cold dry air and allergens cause the airways to become inflamed and constrict resulting in episodes of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. The current management for asthma is primarily pharmacological, however, recent studies state that exercise is an important addition to the management plan (4).

Current guidelines from Exercise and Sports Science Australia recommend that most asthmatic patients with pharmacologically controlled symptoms should engage in individually tailored exercise programs developed in conjunction with the asthmatic’s physician. A good warm-up and cool-down as part of a program with a mixture of aerobic and resistance training lasting between 20 and 60 minutes, 3-5 times a week is recommended for mild-moderate asthma sufferers. Team sports that require short, intermittent bursts of activity are recommended to severe asthmatics, as these activities have been shown to reduce asthma symptoms. Using pre-exercise medication will allow most asthmatics to engage in exercise with mild or no disadvantage. Over time, asthmatic individuals will find that they can exercise with reduced airway constriction at the same exercise intensity.

Swimming was also emphasised as an excellent activity (in non-chlorinated pools and/or outdoor locations), because it elicits less exercise-induced airway constriction and produces excellent benefits for the cardio respiratory system. Studies have shown that swimming regularly results in less exercise-induced asthmatic symptoms when compared with other forms of exercise in untrained asthmatic individuals. When compared with results from asthmatic individuals involved in other forms of physical activity, the people who were involved in the swimming program presented with greater improvements in symptom control and reduced overall asthma severity (4). The benefits of exercise have resulted in: fewer emergency room visits, hospitalisations, doctor’s visits, reported days of wheezing, need for inhaled corticosteroids, and school absenteeism and an overall better quality of life (2).

If you are an asthmatic and would like further information on appropriate exercise prescription or would like to commence a tailored exercise program, contact one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists for a consultation today. You can email us at info@absolutebalance.com.au or visit our website www.absolutebalance.com.au for further information.


Nicole Barber (B.Sc. Exercise & Sport Science)

Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES) (ESSA)



1.       Australian Bureau of Statistics http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4338.0main+features152011-13

2.       Australian Institute of Health and Welfare http://www.aihw.gov.au/asthma/

3.       Australian Asthma Foundation https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/national/about-asthma/what-is-asthma/statistics

4.       FANELLI A, CABRAL A, NEDER J, MARTINS M, CARVALHO C. Exercise Training on Disease Control and Quality of Life in Asthmatic Children. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007;39(9):1474-1480. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3180d099ad.