As long as your child is managing their asthma well, research shows exercise can cut your child’s risk of asthma symptoms. Most children with asthma can enjoy PE, after-school clubs and other activities along with everyone else.
If your child has a diagnosis of severe asthma and often gets symptoms when they’re exercising, read our tips for exercising when you have severe asthma.
Regular exercise is good for your child’s asthma
Help your child stay active
10 simple steps to ease your worries about your child exercising
Help your child look after their asthma when they're exercising
Help your child feel more confident about getting active
- improves how well your child’s lungs work so they have more stamina and get less out of breath
- boosts your child’s immune system so they’re less likely to get coughs and colds which will make their asthma worse
- improves your child’s mood and self-esteem which can influence how well they manage their asthma
- helps your child feel more confident about their asthma, and what they can achieve.
Exercise also helps to keep your child’s weight healthy
Research shows that children with a higher BMI are more likely to:
- have asthma in the first place
- get more asthma symptoms
- have a higher risk of an asthma attack
- need to take more medicine to keep their asthma symptoms under control
"Being overweight can also affect the development of your child’s lungs and affect how well their lungs work," says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK's in-house GP. "And children with asthma may be more likely to become obese, which in turn can make their asthma symptoms worse."
Inspiring athletes with asthma
There are lots of inspiring role models to prove that having asthma doesn’t need to hold your child back from staying active. Does your child know that, for example, cyclist Laura Kenny, footballer David Beckham and runner Paula Radcliffe all have asthma?
And that lots of children with asthma all over the UK exercise and play sport every day, proving that asthma doesn’t need to hold them back.
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 their 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're keen to try, a fun session at the local pool, or a skipping rope that counts their jumps.
- getting the whole family active. Try ball games or tennis in the park, sign up for a local park run, fly a kite or get together with a dance mat or Wii fit challenge in your living room.
Some parents worry that having asthma means their child can’t exercise, or that certain activities will trigger their asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.
Exercise can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms so it’s understandable if you’re worried about your child going to an adventure playground, or doing PE or sports day.
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.
Run through this checklist to help your child stay active without either of you worrying.
- 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.
- Get into a good routine with their medicines – if your child takes their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed they’re less likely to react to triggers and get any asthma symptoms. Remember, if your child’s asthma is well managed then exercise and activities shouldn’t trigger any asthma symptoms.
- Make sure your child always has their reliever inhaler (usually blue) and spacer with them to use quickly if they get asthma symptoms while they’re exercising.
- Tell your child’s PE teachers, sports coaches and club leaders how important it is that your child has their blue reliever and spacer to hand at all times – not left back in the classroom, changing room or school office. Give them a copy of your child’s asthma action plan. It’s important they know what your child’s triggers are and what to do if they spot symptoms. They need to get a good balance between taking asthma seriously and making sure your child isn’t excluded from any activities.
- See your child’s GP or asthma nurse if your child is getting asthma symptoms when they exercise. It could be that your child’s not managing their asthma triggers as well as they could be. Their GP or asthma nurse can check your child is 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 manage their asthma well so that they can enjoy staying active without getting any asthma symptoms.
- If exercise is your child’s only asthma trigger, see your child’s GP or asthma nurse. “They can help you work out if your child has a type of asthma known as ‘exercise-induced asthma’,” says Dr Andy. “This type of asthma isn’t very common, but if your child does have it, the treatment is the same and they can still exercise. They may just need some extra tips to manage their asthma symptoms when they exercise.”
- If your child’s doing an activity outdoors when it’s cold or damp, like football or running, encourage them to wrap a scarf loosely over their nose and mouth to warm up 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 blocked up 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 in the nostrils before it gets to their lungs.
- Be aware of other things that might trigger asthma symptoms when your child’s exercising, such as chlorine in a swimming pool, dusty gym equipment or air pollution.
If you're still worried about your child getting active, why not talk it through with our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (Mon–Fri; 9am–5pm).
Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606728.
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 ignore symptoms and carry on. If your child has asthma symptoms when they exercise, they need to stop, take their blue reliever inhaler and wait for their symptoms to stop before starting again.
If your child is:
- coughing, and/or
- wheezing, and/or
- finding it hard to breathe, or feeling like they can’t breathe in properly, and/or
- saying they have a tight feeling in their chest or that their chest hurts, and/or
- finding it hard to talk
They need to:
- stop what they’re doing straight away
- tell someone who can help
- take their blue reliever inhaler
If they do these things and they’re still getting asthma symptoms, they might be having an asthma attack. See our advice on what to do if your child's having an asthma attack.
My child doesn't want to do exercise because...
...it makes them out of breath:
Help your child understand what’s normal for anyone exercising, whether they have asthma or not. Run through the symptoms of an asthma attack with them. You can also tell them that:
- 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 embarrassed asking for or using their inhaler in front of other children
- explain to your child why it’s so important to use their blue reliever inhaler and spacer 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 blue reliever and spacer if they need them, 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 find it easier to breathe and won’t need to use their reliever inhaler as much when they’re exercising.
…they think it will make their asthma symptoms come on
Talk to your child about their worries - maybe this has happened before which has 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 use their asthma action 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 blue reliever inhaler.
- booking them in for an asthma review every year or for extra appointments if they need them. Then they can ask their GP or asthma nurse to explain how their medicines work and how they can exercise without getting asthma symptoms.
Last updated November 2019
Next review due November 2022