Tag Archives: running air pollution

Asthma and running

I remember being in gym class or running around a lot in my early teens with friends when all of a sudden one of them would just collapse to the ground with an asthma attack. It was a very scary, though rare occurrence, and luckily no one died. Quick use of an inhaler and rest was usually all that was needed to help them. I felt lucky that I didn’t have asthma since I loved riding my bike and running whenever I could.

It was pretty obvious to us kids back then that asthmatics shouldn’t exercise(or so we thought). And yet, some of my first “long” runs(3 to 4 miles) were with a friend of mine who had asthma. I often worried he would suffer an attack on these runs(especially when he ran faster than me!), but they didn’t happen, though they did happen at other times when he wasn’t exercising. So asthma was, and in some ways still is a very perplexing disease to me.

The relationship between exercise and asthma is very complicated. There are many different types of asthma, some of which are induced by vigorous exercise like running. Exercise for asthmatics can be particularly problematic in very cold or polluted air. It is even possible that intense training can cause asthma in some individuals.

This doesn’t mean that asthmatics shouldn’t exercise, just that they should use more caution. If you have asthma consult your doctor before embarking on an intense training regimen.

With the right amount of treatment and/or training, asthmatic athletes are capable of some amazing athletic achievements. Belgian runner Stefaan Engels holds the world record for most marathons run in a year, in spite of being diagnosed with asthma as a child:

A Belgian runner has set a new world record after completing an astonishing 365 marathons in as many days.

Stefaan Engels, 49, crossed the finish line on his final race in Barcelona, Spain, after pounding the roads in several countries across Europe and North America in the last year.

Dubbed the ‘Marathon Man’, Mr Engels was diagnosed with asthma as a child and told not to sports.

The ultimate marathon man: Belgian runner breaks record with 365 in a single year.

There are also many asthmatic Olympic athletes, and apparently they are more likely to win than their non-asthmatic counterparts for some reason.

Increasingly, some medical researchers advocate using exercise as part of the treatment for asthma:

A prescription for exercise has been endorsed for all asthmatic subjects by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Thoracic Society. The allergy community has placed emphasis on medical therapy and allergen avoidance; in addition, exercise [correction] has not been formally incorporated into the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program guidelines. It is our belief that an exercise prescription should be part of the treatment for all cases of asthma. The real question is whether prolonged physical activity and, in particular, outdoor play of children plays a role in prophylaxis against persistent wheezing. If so, the decrease in physical activity might have played a major role in recent increases in asthma prevalence and severity.

Physical activity and exercise in asthma: relevance to etiology and treatment.  Lucas SR, Platts-Mills TA.


University of Virginia Asthma and Allergic Diseases Center, Charlottesville, VA 22908-1355, USA.

Although I don’t have asthma, I sometimes suffer from shortness of breath when I run in polluted or cold air. Nothing serious though.

If you have asthma and you exercise, tell us about your experiences.