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How to Manage Winter Triggers When Exercising with Asthma

Two women and a man jog during their morning exercise routine despite their struggles with asthma.
Getty Images / julief514

Beki Tovey understands first-hand how asthma can worsen in cold weather. Read her nine asthma-friendly tips for exercising outdoors safely during the winter months.

Risks of outdoor exercise outweighing the rewards? Beki offers five indoor alternatives for when the cold and wind are too much. 

I aim to keep active all year round. Still, it's much easier to motivate myself to head outside when it's sunny and warm rather than during the depths of winter. For many people – myself included – cold weather can trigger asthma symptoms, and you may struggle with exercise more.

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

·       Cold air can trigger airways into spasm, causing asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.

·       Air pollution can sometimes be worse on still, cold days, 

·       It's likely that more colds and flu viruses are going around during the winter

So, whether it's an icy and snowy or damp and foggy day in winter, it's essential to consider your asthma when taking exercise outdoors. For me, cold weather can aggravate my symptoms and make breathing much harder. Sometimes, I have to opt to run indoors until the temperature increases.

Asthma hasn’t stopped me from running races and long distances, so accepting that the weather is too cold for outdoor exercise can be tough. But my safety and health comes first – and my asthma thanks me for it.

9 Tips for exercising with asthma during the winter  

In saying this, however, I prefer getting outside instead of being stuck within the boring four walls of the gym. If you also prefer being outdoors, here are some ways I've found to exercise safely with asthma over the winter months.

1. Wear a buff or scarf around your face as a “cold air barrier”

I also try to breathe through my nose to warm the air before it reaches my lungs.

2. Make sure to layer up 

Get those vests on and insulate your chest! It helps enormously to keep this area warmer - gilets are a great option.

3. If you have been prescribed one by your doctor or healthcare team, use your reliever inhaler as guided

I take mine 15 minutes before leaving the house to help open my airways. Always consult your doctor before making lifestyle changes such as taking up an exercise regime.

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 you need

Listen to your body and. If you notice your breathing becoming laboured or you feel faint, STOP. Take a break. I always carry my phone, prescribed inhaler, and emergency ID, just in case.

6. Avoid cold drinks 

Cold drinks 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 benefit of warming my hands).

7. Try not to run first thing in the morning 

The morning is when temperatures are at their coldest. I schedule my runs for weekday lunchtimes or mid-morning on the weekends.

8. Take your time with your cool-down

I also avoid sudden temperature changes in my airways by taking at least 10 minutes for my cool-down period.

9. Treat yourself to a warm shower or bath 

A post-workout hygiene ritual helps me to raise my body temperature slowly and eases my breathing after exercise. 

5 Asthma-friendly indoor alternatives for winter exercise

Finally, remember that exercising with asthma isn't necessarily a no-no - not even in winter. Taking these extra precautions means I can continue enjoying the fitness activities I love. But if you are looking for 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

I find running on the treadmill boring, so I try to do intervals or hill sessions. I vary the speed and incline to keep things exciting and really work my leg muscles. 

2. Try an exercise DVD or YouTube video

From high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to yoga, there's a vast range of online options to 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 or a badminton court for a bit of variety. Why not rope in a friend and try something new? When I was pregnant, I loved going to some of the exercise classes on offer. Many exercises classes can be adapted to suit needs with asthma and pregnancy – just talk to the instructor beforehand and be sensible.

4. Make up your own indoor circuit

The possibilities are endless, from simple bodyweight exercises to climbing stairs. You can use bean cans as weights or skip in your living room. 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 when working in an office during the day. 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 take the stairs rather than the lift whenever possible. If you can, 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 for people with asthma. The good news is that your condition is less likely to be triggered by cold weather if well-controlled.

As well as following some of my tried-and-tested tips, always follow your doctor's advice to prevent asthma symptoms from worsening.

© 2023 Life Effects by Teva Pharmaceuticals

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 

This site is intended for UK and Ireland residents only.

Date of preparation: August 2023
D: COB-GB-NP-00138 (V1.0) / T: COB-GB-NP-00162 (V1.0) / M: COB-GB-NP-00161 (V1.0)

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