Some parents worry that having asthma means their child can’t exercise, or that certain activities will trigger a child’s asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. But as long as your child is managing their asthma well, research suggests exercise can actually cut your child’s risk of asthma symptoms, meaning most children with asthma can enjoy PE, after-school clubs and other activities along with everyone else.
Exercise is good for your child’s asthma
Regular exercise can help your child’s asthma by:
- improving how well their lungs work so they have more stamina and get less breathless
- boosting their immune system so they’re less likely to get coughs and colds which will make their asthma worse
- improving your child’s mood and self-esteem which can influence how well they manage their asthma.
There’s a good chance that staying active will also help your child feel more confident about their asthma, and what they can achieve.
“I used to be terrified at the thought of Patrick doing PE at school but he’s proof that exercising is so important for asthma – I can’t recommend it enough. […] swimming has strengthened Patrick’s lungs so much. He says that when he’s in the pool he feels no weight on his lungs – it’s like he doesn’t have asthma." - Jeannette Speight , mum to Patrick, 11.
Inspiring asthma athletes
There are loads of inspiring role models to prove that having asthma doesn’t need to hold your child back from staying active. For example, cyclist Laura Trott, footballer David Beckham and runner Paula Radcliffe all have asthma.
“Looking back I feel that having asthma actually spurred me on rather than hindered me. I was thrown into the sport at a very young age to strengthen my lungs, and once I started doing well I didn’t want to stop.” - Cyclist Laura Trott, Olympic gold medallist and world champion.
And not all asthma role models need to be gold medallists – lots of children with asthma are proving that asthma doesn’t need to hold them back:
Help your child stay active
To get all the benefits from exercise, experts recommend that children spend at least one hour a day doing some kind of physical activity.
You can encourage your child to reach their one hour a day by:
- building activity into your daily routine. Walking, cycling or scooting to school, playing out in the garden, and after-school sports clubs can all make being active easy.
- making activity fun. Try rollerblading or skateboarding, new activities or dance classes they are keen to try, a fun session at the local pool, or a clever skipping rope that counts their jumps.
- encouraging the whole family to get active. Try ball games or tennis in the park, sign up for a local fun run, fly a kite or get together with a dance mat or Wii fit challenge in your living room.
If your child has a diagnosis of severe asthma and often gets symptoms when they’re exercising, you can find some useful tips here.
Worried your child will get asthma symptoms?
Exercise can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms so it’s understandable if you’re worried about your child doing PE or Sports Day events at school, or nervous about them going to a birthday party at an adventure playground. Lots of parents have also told us they feel worried because they don’t want their child to feel left out.
It can sometimes feel like a bit of a balancing act – letting your child take part, and trying not to worry, or keeping them home and worrying they’ll feel left out.
What you don’t want is to look back one day and wish you'd done things differently, whether that’s wishing you’d let your child take part more, or wishing you hadn’t worried as much.
Get confident – the asthma active checklist for children
Use our asthma active checklist to help you and your child both enjoy staying active without worrying. Remember, if your child’s asthma is well managed then exercise and activities shouldn’t cause them any problems.
- Make sure your child has an up-to-date written asthma action plan so you’re clear on which asthma medicines to take every day, the signs that show your child’s asthma is getting worse and what to do if they get asthma symptoms. You could keep a copy of the plan on your phone, and in your child’s PE bag. Make sure the school has a copy too.
- Stick to a routine of managing their asthma on a daily basis – your child needs to take their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed so they’re less likely to react to triggers.
- Make sure your child always has their reliever inhaler (usually blue) with them (and their spacer if they have one) to use quickly if they get asthma symptoms while they’re exercising, and that other people understand how important it is that their child has their reliever to hand – not left back in the classroom, changing room or school office
- See your child’s GP or asthma nurse if your child is getting symptoms when they exercise. It could be that your child’s not managing their asthma triggers as well as they could be. The GP or asthma nurse can check your child’s on the right medicines, taking their inhalers in the right way, and using an up to date written asthma action plan. This will help your child get in better control of their asthma so that they can enjoy exercising safely.
- If exercise is your child’s only asthma trigger see your child’s GP or asthma nurse so they can help you work out whether or not they’ve got ‘exercise-induced asthma’. If they do, they may just need some extra tips to manage their asthma symptoms when they do exercise. For example, their GP might suggest they take their blue reliever inhaler before they start any physical activity.
- Make sure PE teachers know exactly what your child’s triggers are, and how to treat them quickly – give them a copy of your child’s asthma action plan
- Help PE teachers and sports coaches get a good balance between taking it seriously, and making sure your child is not excluded by talking to them about your child’s asthma and what does and doesn’t affect them.
- Help your child’s teacher, PE teacher, or club leader to understand that most of the time your child can take part with no problems but if they do start having symptoms it’s important that they stop exercising and take their blue reliever inhaler.
- If your child’s doing an activity out of doors in the winter, like football or running, encourage them to wrap a scarf loosely over their nose and mouth to warm the air before it gets to their airways.
- Watch out for hay fever when your child is exercising outdoors. If pollen is one of your child’s triggers, make sure they’re taking the right medicines to treat their hay fever alongside their usual asthma medicines.
- If your child has a stuffy nose encourage them to blow their nose before exercising so they can breathe more easily – if they can breathe through their nose, the air can be warmed up before it gets to their lungs.
- Be aware of other things that might be making exercise harder for your child, such as chlorine in the swimming pool, dusty gym equipment, or air pollution.
Talk to your child too – so they know what to do if they get symptoms
Even a younger child can feel reassured by having clear instructions about what they need to do if they have asthma symptoms when they’re exercising. Help them to understand that the one thing they mustn’t do is carry on and ignore symptoms. If your child has asthma symptoms when they exercise, they need to stop, take their blue reliever inhaler and wait for their symptoms to go before starting again.
If your child is:
- coughing or wheezing
- very short of breath, feeling like they can’t get enough of a breath/feel like they can’t breathe in properly
- has a tight feeling in their chest
- has trouble speaking and can only manage short sentences
They need to:
- Stop what they’re doing
- Tell someone who can help
- Take their blue reliever inhaler.
Help your child feel more confident about exercising
My child’s reluctant to do any exercise because…
…it makes them out of breath
Help your child understand what’s normal for anyone exercising, whether they have asthma or not:
- All children get a bit out of breath when they exercise.
- When children run around their hearts beat faster.
- Sometimes people get red in the face and feel a bit hot and sweaty when they’re exercising.
… they feel self-conscious about asking for their inhaler, or using it in front of other children.
- Explain to your child why it’s so important to use their blue reliever inhaler if they get asthma symptoms. If they quickly get their symptoms under control, they can carry on with the activity and won’t feel left out.
- Encourage them to be open about their asthma so they feel comfortable asking to use their reliever if they need it, and telling someone if they have asthma symptoms, including their friends. Tell them about sports stars with asthma, like Olympic swimmer Karen Pickering or footballer Paul Scholes so they can tell their friends too!
- Tell your child that after they’ve been exercising regularly for a while they might notice that they get less breathless and don’t need to use their reliever inhaler as much during exercise.
…they think it will make their asthma symptoms come on
Talk to your child about their concerns - maybe this has happened before and it’s put them off any kind of physical activity. Perhaps they’re avoiding too much exercise because it makes them out of breath, and they think it’s their asthma coming on. Help them to feel more confident by:
- encouraging them to stick to their asthma management plan. If they take their preventer inhaler every day in the right way, they’re much less likely to get asthma symptoms and need their reliever inhaler.
- booking them in for an asthma review and asking the GP or nurse to explain to your child how the medicines do their job and talking to them about the kinds of exercise they can safely do.
- leaving a copy of your child’s asthma action plan with their PE teacher or sports coach so your child knows that the adults around them know what they need to do if they get symptoms.
- helping them feel confident that they themselves know what to do if they do get symptoms and will always have their reliever inhaler with them.
Last updated November 2016