Could weight loss help your asthma?

If you're carrying extra pounds, losing weight has many well-known benefits

Help your asthma

We know that:

  • if you have asthma and you are obese, your symptoms are likely to improve if you lose weight
  • children who are obese are more likely to get a diagnosis of asthma
  • weight loss in obese individuals with asthma led to fewer symptoms and less use of asthma medicines in one study.

Scientists don’t fully understand the link between carrying extra weight and asthma yet, but possible reasons are that obese people may:

  • get more breathlessness because of the extra weight on their chest/lungs
  • have low levels of fitness
  • get more inflammation in their body generally.

If you have a diagnosis of severe asthma, there are lots of ideas and tips about losing weight here especially for you.

Enjoy other health benefits

If you’re overweight, losing weight can also:

  • reduce the risk of long-term conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes
  • increase your energy levels, so daily life is more enjoyable
  • put less pressure on your joints so you can move more easily
  • enable your GP to reduce the amount of medication you need to take if you have certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Small changes, big benefits

Even a small amount of weight loss can bring benefits; losing just five per cent of your weight can make a difference.

How we did it

"When I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 15, my weight had crept up to around 18 stone. I started judo classes twice a week as well as running and I lost three stone. I could feel the difference in my lungs - like a weight had been taken off my chest." - Joel Hammond

"Two years ago when I retired, I wasn't far off 14 stone and I'm only 5'2". My GP referred me to a gym and I joined Slimming World. I've lost two and a half stone. I think carrying extra weight made my asthma symptoms worse." - Jean Briggs

"I lost over six stone by making changes to my diet and walking. Now I'm using less medication for my asthma and when I get hay fever in the summer it no longer seems to trigger my asthma symptoms." - Nabilah Haq

What's the best way to lose weight successfully?

  1. Find your motivationOne good way to approach it is to think first about why you want to lose weight, and what the benefits will be for you. Write a list of reasons why you want to lose some weight, and put it in your bag, on your car dashboard or inside the fridge door to remind you. For example, perhaps you're fed up with your clothes feeling too tight, or getting breathless climbing the stairs? Maybe you want to see if it does help relieve your asthma symptoms or help you reduce your need for medication. You might feel you're missing out on activities with friends, family or children. Or perhaps you just want to feel your best for a big event such as a holiday, new job or family wedding.
  2. Make small, steady changes - Most experts recommend losing weight at a steady rate of between 0.5 and 1kg (1-2lb) a week. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best way to lose weight is to make small, realistic changes to your diet and the amount of physical activity you do.
  3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet - It seems that all the usual healthy eating advice (such as eating more fruit and veg and having regular meals including breakfast so you don't get hungry and crave sugary snacks) really does work. You can find some useful tips from NHS weight loss experts here.
  4. Get more active - Exercise and activity is good for most people with asthma, as well as helping you lose weight. Researchers have found that when people who are overweight or obese lose weight with a combination of diet and exercise, they lose on average 20 per cent more weight than if they only diet.

Exercise can trigger asthma symptoms for some people, so talk to your GP or asthma nurse about the best way to start. Your pharmacist may also have information about local courses and support groups.

You're aiming for half an hour a day, five days a week, but starting even with ten minutes a day can help you get there. You can include gardening, dancing, brisk walking, swimming, Zumba, even housework.

How can I get started?

Your GP or asthma nurse can put together a personal weight loss programme for you. There is a lot they can do to help you.

  1. Don't give up - If you have a bad day, it doesn't matter - you can start again the day after. So don't give up just because you don't exercise one day or you eat a piece of cake. Just make a fresh start with your next meal.
  2. Plan rewards for yourself when you reach a particular goal such as fitting into a pair of jeans or losing 4lbs. It might be an afternoon with a friend, a trip to the cinema, a new pair of trainers, or a new music download. Get more ideas here.

You can read more inspiring weight loss stories from people with asthma here.

Last updated November 2016

Next review due November 2019