Asthma as a Barrier to Physical Activity in Kids

Asthma as a Barrier to Physical Activity in Kids

Kids with asthma can and should do physical activity if the condition is kept under control. Don't let asthma keep your child from being active.

By Melissa Chen, MD, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Kids with asthma often limit their physical activity. But asthma should not be a barrier to being physically active. Overweight children, especially, need more activity to reach and maintain a healthy weight. If asthma is well controlled, most kids and teens can take part in any sport. In fact, many successful Olympic and professional athletes have asthma. So don't let asthma hold your child back.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects about one in 10 children. Kids with asthma have airway inflammation that makes the airways overly sensitive to asthma triggers. These triggers may include cold air, dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke, and physical activity. They cause the airways to swell even more and make extra mucus. This narrows the airways, making it harder to move air in and out of the lungs, resulting in an asthma attack. Symptoms of an attack may include coughing, wheezing (whistling sound while breathing), chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Can physical activity trigger asthma attacks?
Experts are not sure why exercise can bring on an asthma attack. Breathing fast through your mouth during vigorous exercise can dry out and irritate your airways and may lead to an attack. Breathing in cold air or pollution during exercise might be the reason. Yet, most kids and teens with this condition can do any physical activity if they follow their asthma action plan. Talk with your child's doctor about an asthma action plan to prevent or control symptoms. And ask him or her about physical activity that is best for your child.

Some physical activities are more asthma-friendly and better tolerated than others.

What are some asthma-friendly physical activities?
Activities that are more asthma-friendly include:

  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Volleyball
  • Inline skating
  • Baseball
  • Gymnastics
  • Golf

These sports may be better tolerated because they may:

  • Involve short bursts of exercise
  • Let you control how fast you breathe
  • Let you breathe through your nose
  • Be less likely to dry out your airways

Aerobic activities like distance running and soccer, and cold air sports such as ice hockey and ice skating, are more likely to cause asthma symptoms.

Tips to get moving
Physical activity is important for anyone's good health, even those with asthma. Activity can also help your child avoid extra weight gain that can lead to health problems, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Use these tips to get your child on the right path to better health:

  • Start slow. Have your child ease into the activity with a warm-up for about 10 minutes. Encourage your child not to overdo it on the first day and to always finish up with a cool-down.
  • Bring friends. Let your child invite friends along. It's more fun with friends and they can get help if your child has an asthma attack.
  • Take breaks. Encourage your child to rest as often as needed and to drink lots of water.
  • Mix things up. Suggest different activities on different days to keep it interesting.
  • Know the signs. Remind your child to avoid his or her known triggers and breathe through the nose instead of the mouth. On days when asthma symptoms are bothersome, take it easy. And follow the asthma action plan your child's doctor has advised.

Kids and teens with asthma can do most anything if their condition is well-controlled. Everyone needs exercise, even kids with asthma. So get your kids out there and get them moving.


  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Exercise-induced asthma. Accessed: 08/18/2010
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Asthma and physical activity in the school. Accessed: 08/18/2010
  • American Lung Association. Understanding asthma. Accessed: 08/18/2010
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Don't let asthma keep you out of the game. Accessed: 08/18/2010

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