1 in 20 people with asthma have severe asthma

Your weight when you have severe asthma

How to manage your weight when you have severe asthma

Being a healthy weight is crucial to your wellbeing ‒ not only does it reduce your risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain cancers but it can help to cut your asthma symptoms and may mean you need less asthma medicine, according to one study.

Losing weight if you're overweight can also mean there's less pressure on your joints, so you'll move more easily and feel more energetic, making daily life more enjoyable. Research shows losing just a small amount (five per cent of your weight) can make a difference.

Your weight when you have severe asthma

In an Asthma UK survey, 69 per cent of people with severe asthma said that having the condition had made them gain weight.

It can be much harder to manage your weight when you have severe asthma for many different reasons:

  • Your asthma symptoms may make it difficult to exercise.
  • You may feel too tired to make and eat healthy food.
  • If you're feeling unwell, you may not have much motivation.
  • If you're taking oral steroids in the long term you can end up feeling hungrier than usual, which can mean you eat more and gain weight. You may also gain weight due to increased fluid retention.

"Twenty years on non-stop steroids caused seven stone weight gain. That was something I did find difficult as I was no longer able to exercise to the extent I had been and any exercise was difficult at times. My appearance changed dramatically and people who hadn't seen me for a while used to comment on the weight gain which did lower my confidence." - Nichola Duane, 39

"The steroids are causing weight gain and affect my heart. Every doctor I see wants to take me off them, but there are no other options currently available." - Julia Kerr, 29

"As a result of taking steroids I’ve experienced weight gain, which is the most frustrating thing for me because I like to keep fit and I eat relatively healthily." - Celena Dell, 34

How to stay on top of your weight when you have severe asthma

Even if you're taking steroids and/or you’re often getting asthma symptoms, it's still possible to take steps to help manage your weight.

"Severe asthma can cause very difficult symptoms, and the added effects that being overweight can have on your breathing cannot be underestimated," says Asthma UK’s in-house GP Dr Andy Whittamore. "This is why it's incredibly important to do everything you can to stay at a healthy weight and keep as fit and active as possible."

1. Reach out for support

Speak to your GP, asthma specialist or one of our friendly, expert asthma nurses (our Helpline is on 0300 222 5800, Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm) for tips on how stay at a healthy weight. And if you’re planning to make changes to your diet, tell the important people in your life what you are doing, and why. Their support can make it easier for you when you need a little encouragement.  

2. Make small changes

To lose weight and keep the weight you lose off, most experts say it’s best to make small, realistic changes to your diet and the amount of physical activity you do. It’s generally recommended to lose weight at a steady rate of between 0.5 and 1kg (1-2lb) a week, but talk to your asthma specialist about whether your diagnosis of severe asthma means this is sensible for you.

3. Do your research

Keep a diary of all the food and drink (including snacks) that you have in a week ‒ the NHS has a downloadable 12-week weight-loss guide that includes a stick-it-on-the-fridge planner to help you track your weekly progress. There is also a calorie calculator and a free app to help you cook healthier versions of the foods you love. Use these tools to work out how you can make simple changes to your diet.

4. Plan ahead

It's a good idea to cook big batches of healthy food such as veggie-packed stews, soups and chillies on your good days so that you'll always have something that's delicious and nutritious in the freezer if you're feeling too tired or unwell to cook from scratch.

"If you're taking steroids in the long term, and feeling hungrier than usual, eat foods that are high in fibre (such as vegetables, brown rice, pulses and wholegrain bread and cereals) and lean protein (chicken, tofu, fish, eggs and nuts) at each meal to keep you feeling fuller for longer," says Dr Andy Whittamore. "Also, make sure that you stay well hydrated because your body can often mistake thirst for hunger."

5. Move more

Exercise and activities such as dancing, gardening, housework and walking – whatever you can manage – can help to burn excess calories and boost your mood! Research has shown that people lose on average 20 per cent more weight if they exercise as well as diet, compared with those who only cut back on calories.

The trick is to find something that you love doing, preferably with friends or family. Step counters and activity apps are easy to find and can be useful to monitor your progress and keep you motivated. Read more tips on how to keep active when you have severe asthma

How we did it

"I decided to lose weight for me. No-one ever commented, not even my consultant. I felt that this was something I could control – I had no control over my asthma – and to some degree I was helping myself. I joined Weight Watchers and started Pilates at the same time – something nice and gentle I could do at my own pace. When I reached my target weight of nine stone my friend and I both joined a Taekwondo class. I was hooked straightaway and wish I’d started sooner! I now train three times a week for an hour each time." - Jo Simm, 44

"I knew I had to lose weight to help my asthma and one of the main ways to achieve this was being more active. This was tricky as my main trigger is exercise. So I sat down with a personal trainer and we worked out what I can do to avoid making my asthma worse. Since my diagnosis I've lost five stone in weight." - Joanne Beecroft, 36 

Last updated November 2016

Next review due November 2019