Q: I've suffered from asthma for most of my life, and I keep hearing conflicting advice about whether to exercise or not.  Is exercising safe when you have asthma?

Those with asthma certainly should not avoid physical activity because of asthma. Research has concluded athletic activity in asthmatics is safe and does not induce increased wheezing or alter lung function and may actually improve health-related quality of life.  Asthmatics should be able to exercise to the peak of their athletic abilities without symptoms.  Many Olympic and professional athletes have significant asthma and have achieved significant success despite having asthma.  In fact, one of the ways health-care providers assess whether asthma is well-controlled is to determine whether there is any limitation of physical activity as a result of asthma symptoms. If there are limitations, then this indicates asthma is not optimally controlled. In addition, asthmatics should not be funneled toward certain athletic activities because they are perceived to be less likely to cause symptoms.

Asthmatics should not accept exercise limitation as "part of the disease".  There are steps asthmatics can take for prevention of asthma symptoms that will allow them to maintain normal physical activity. Most asthmatics will benefit from use of short-acting bronchodilators 20-30 minutes before activity.  Other asthmatics might need more medication chronically.  These decisions can only be made on an individual basis.  In addition to taking medications, warming up prior to exercising and cooling down after exercise may help in asthma prevention. For those with allergies and asthma, exercise should be limited outside during high pollen days or when temperatures are extremely low and air pollution levels are high to reduce the chance of having an asthma flare.

Exercise has so many benefits overall and in no way should be limited if a person has asthma.  If an asthmatic is symptomatic during exercise, it is a sign of uncontrolled asthma and should be addressed with appropriate healthcare providers.

 Dr. Jonathan Parsons is associate director of Ohio State's Asthma Center, and also a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at The Ohio State University Medical Center. He is an exercise-induced asthma expert in both exercise-induced asthma and asthma in athletes.