Keeping to a healthy weight when you have severe asthma

Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help you manage your severe asthma

Health advice > Severe asthma > Making life easier with severe asthma

Find out how small changes to your diet and activity levels can make a difference in how well you manage your severe asthma symptoms.

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Weight gain when you have severe asthma

Severe asthma is harder to control if you’re overweight or obese. 

Extra weight means you’re more likely to have worse asthma symptoms and asthma attacks. If you do have an attack, it could be more severe.  

Unfortunately keeping to a healthy weight can be more of a challenge when you have severe asthma:

  • Your asthma symptoms may make it more difficult to exercise or keep active.
  • If you’re taking steroids in the long term, it’s common to feel hungrier than usual which can lead to weight gain.
  • You may also gain weight due to increased fluid retention from taking oral steroids.
  • For some people anxiety and stress, common in people with long-term conditions like severe asthma, increases the desire to comfort eat, or drink alcohol, sugary drinks and sweetened coffee which are high in calories.

Use the NHS BMI (Body Mass Index) healthy weight calculator to check if you’re a healthy weight.

A healthy weight can help your severe asthma

There’s evidence to show if you lose excess weight, you’re likely to see benefits to your asthma. Getting to a healthy weight also lowers your risk of an asthma attack and needing to go to hospital because of your asthma.

  • You may notice asthma symptoms improving, feel more able to get on with things you want to do in life, and feel more confident.
  • You should see more benefits from your preventer medicine.  Your preventer medicine keeps the inflammation down in your airways which means you‘re less likely to react to your asthma triggers. You may notice you don’t need to use your reliever medicine as often or you have fewer asthma attacks.
  • Losing some weight also means you’re less at risk of other conditions like acid reflux and sleep apnoea, that can make your asthma worse. And it could mean you respond better to the flu vaccine.

Getting started on your healthy weight plan

For most people the best way to lose weight is with both diet and exercise. The NHS website has lots of helpful information including a 12-week diet and exercise plan to help you lose weight safely.

Try these three ways to get started on your healthy weight plan:

1. Get support from your healthcare team

Ask your doctor or specialist if they can make losing weight part of your treatment plan.

 Many specialist centres will have a dietician as part of their services. Your GP or asthma nurse may also be able to refer you to weight loss services.

Talk to your healthcare team about side effects from steroids which could be making you feel more hungry than usual.

2. Make good food and drink choices

To lose weight and keep it off, most experts say it’s best to make small, realistic changes to your diet.

Start by being mindful of what food choices you’re making:

  • Could you replace foods high in fat or sugar with healthier snacks and meals?
  • Could you include more foods that are high in fibre (such as vegetables, brown rice, pulses and wholegrain bread and cereals)? Or lean protein (chicken, tofu, fish, eggs and nuts)? Fibre and protein at each meal can keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Could you cut back on alcoholic drinks which are high in calories
  • Do you drink enough water? It’s easy for us to confuse hunger with thirst, so sometimes your body may need water rather than food.

You can get more tips on losing and maintaining a healthy weight on the NHS website.

3. Safely increase how much physical activity you do

Keeping as active as you can will also help you keep to a healthy weight. We know exercise can sometimes be a challenge for some people with severe asthma, but any increase to the amount of physical activity you do is a good thing. The NHS recommends around two and a half hours of moderate intensity activity a week (150 minutes) spread evenly across the week.

Find out more about staying active when you have severe asthma.

You can get more support about keeping to a healthy weight when you have severe asthma by calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.

Last updated May 2022

Next review due May 2025



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