If you have asthma, you know winter can be a hard time of year for your breathing. There are a couple of issues in the winter time for people with asthma. The first is that the air is cold and dry. Secondly, respiratory infections and sinus infections are more common. These infections can worsen asthma symptoms or trigger asthma attacks. For these reasons, it may not be the best idea for someone with asthma to exercise outside in the winter time.

Cold, dry air tends to irritate lungs that are already hypersensitive. This can cause even more inflammation and can result in a bronchospasm. A bronchospasm is a spasm of bronchial smooth muscle, causing narrowing of the bronchi. This can also result in an increase in mucus in the lungs which further restricts breathing and results in coughing, wheezing, and breathing tightness in the chest.

Utah is known for its bad air quality in the winter time. Exercising outside during the Utah inversion can even further decrease lung function. When we breathe in deeply these particles get deposited inside our lungs, causing irritation, inflammation, and decreased lung function that can last for 24 hours. This is especially problematic for people with chronic respiratory conditions (like asthma) whose symptoms can be easily triggered by particulate pollution.

If you do decide to exercise outside in the winter time, here are a few things you can do to help prevent these symptoms.

  • Wear a knitted face mask or scarf loosely around your nose and mouth and try to breathe through your nose as this allows the air you are breathing to be humidified before entering your lungs.
  • Warming up and cooling down inside before and after exercise can help your lungs to function better during exercise.
  • Using your rescue inhaler 10 to 15 minutes before exercising in the cold air can help open up your lungs and help with your breathing. Helpful hint: If you take your inhaler with you to exercise, keep it close to your body since warm medication is more easily distributed into your lungs.

Exercising is a great way to maintain and improve your lung health. If possible, try to exercise while indoors. See your doctor if you feel like your controller therapy is not working as well as it should or if you are needing to use your rescue inhaler more than two times a week.