Expert Q&A

Asthma: How should asthmatic children exercise?

How is my child supposed to exercise and lose weight if she has asthma and can not run long distances? What can I do to save her life?

You are not alone in your concern for your child’s health. According to the American Lung Association, approximately four million U.S. children under 18 suffer from asthma. Running and strenuous exercise trigger episodes in approximately 80% of asthmatic children. If exercise is an important part of weight loss, what is the parent of an overweight, asthmatic child supposed to do?

Healthcare professionals are quick to point out that exercise and asthma are not mutually exclusive properties. With a little individualization, a child with asthma can participate in most athletic undertakings without serious concern for his or her health.

Focus on movement

The CDC estimates that 17% of children between two and 19 years of age are overweight or obese. This is due largely to inactivity. Work with your family to promote more everyday activity, and not just strenuous exercises. Simple changes such as reducing a child’s amount of time spent in front of the TV, computer or video games and increasing their opportunities to walk and move around will help initiate weight loss.

If you are hesitant about increasing the intensity of your child’s activity, talk to your pediatrician about the use of a bronchodilator before your child exercises. Research has shown that bronchodilator medication prior to exercise can greatly reduce a child’s risk for an asthmatic episode.

Choose activities that don’t involve running

It is true that most exercise-induced asthma episodes occur during running. Choose other forms of activity for your child to engage in that don’t involve running. Get on a bike for a neighborhood ride or join the local pool. Swimming has been shown to be the least asthma-inducing form of aerobic exercise, and it is a great non-weight bearing activity that a child can continue throughout life.

Avoid exercise during sick-times

Children with asthma are more likely to have flare-ups if they engage in strenuous activity when they have a cold or other form of sickness. Pay attention to your child’s health and discourage activity during these potentially dangerous periods.

Avoid environmental triggers

Running on a hot, humid day or an exceptionally cold day is more likely to result in an asthma episode. If your child is allergic to grass, she should stay away from freshly-cut fields and try running or exercising indoors.

Learn to spot an asthma attack

Teach your child the signs of an oncoming asthma attack. If she has symptoms, she should stop all exercise, wait a few minutes and see if the symptoms subside. If they do, she can slowly re-start her exercise. If symptoms do not improve, instruct her to take a dose of the rescue inhaler and wait another few minutes to see if the symptoms subside.

Many world class and professional athletes compete and succeed despite their asthma. Do some research in your child’s sport of interest and inspire your child with the story of a fellow athlete who has asthma. Purposeful exercise and activity should be a part of every child’s daily routine, regardless of their asthma status.

Katie Clark, MPH, RD
Contributing Expert

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