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Health Answers

How should kids with asthma get exercise?

Q. How should kids with asthma get exercise?

A. Exercise is one of the most potent triggers of asthma symptoms, but it shouldn’t prevent children with asthma from staying fit. “Exercise is good for kids for so many reasons,” says Christina Scirica, a pediatric pulmonologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. In fact, studies have shown that kids with asthma who go through a physical conditioning program have reduced symptoms and need fewer medications. Kids who are obese are more likely to have asthma, and it tends to be harder to treat, another reason to encourage fitness.

Kids and parents should be familiar with the difference between an asthma attack and normal exertion from exercise. While workouts can cause shortness of breath, asthma attacks usually also cause coughing, chest tightness, and sometimes wheezing when breathing out. During an attack, Scirica says, kids should stop exercising and rest.


Keeping asthma well controlled will help prevent attacks during exercise, and may include daily medications to control the asthma, a bronchodilator before exercise, and an additional dose as a “rescue” medication if symptoms arise. “With rare exceptions, asthma can be managed quite well without too much medication,” she adds.

To avoid triggering attacks, Scirica recommends warming up before strenuous exercise with low- to moderate-intensity activities like jogging. Cold air temperatures, pollution, and allergens like pollen can exacerbate asthma. When these triggers are present, kids may opt to exercise indoors. Colds and other respiratory illnesses are also asthma triggers, so kids should avoid intense exercise when sick.