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How to Build Cardio Stamina When You Have Asthma

author image Tim Petrie
Tim Petrie is a Physical Therapist and an Orthopedic Certified Specialist working in Milwaukee, Wisc. When he isn't working, he loves distance running, Packers football, and traveling with his wife and his energetic three year old daughter.
How to Build Cardio Stamina When You Have Asthma
Women on stationary exercise bikes, with one of them looking tired. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Exercise benefits everyone but can be particularly valuable for people with asthma. A May 2015 "BMC Pulmonary Medicine" research article noted that a 12-month, moderate-intensity exercise program can improve cardio stamina and quality of life in people with asthma. While exercise can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms, this can be managed and is not a reason to avoid exercise. In fact, many elite professional and amateur athletes have asthma. With good asthma control and proper training, building cardio stamina is a healthy and attainable goal.

Set-Up for Success

Building cardio stamina is typically easiest when exercising in moderate temperatures, as this limits airway constriction. If exercising in the cold, the American Thoracic Society (ATS) recommends wearing a mask over the mouth to help warm the inhaled air. For people who experience a temporary increase in asthma symptoms with exercise, use of a quick-relief inhaler before exercising is typically recommended. ATS also notes there is moderate evidence suggesting that a low salt diet and supplemental vitamin C might help reduce exercise-induced asthma symptoms. Keeping exercise-related symptoms under control is a key factor in a consistent training program to improve cardio stamina.


Building cardio stamina requires moderate to vigorous exercise. A proper warm-up before beginning your workout can help you get through it without being sidelined by asthma symptoms. While it may seem odd, a bit of airway constriction during your warm-up can prevent additional airway spasms during your workout. This phenomenon is known as a refractory period. A March 2012 "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" article reported that 40 to 50 percent of people who experienced airway spasms during warm-up experienced a 1 to 4 hour refractory period. This period can enable you to perform cardio exercise and build stamina with less chance of additional asthma symptoms. The authors of the article noted that including some high-intensity exercise during a warm-up is most likely to induce a refractory period and maximize its effects.

Cardio Exercise

Once a warm-up is performed and any symptoms have subsided, a person with asthma can participate in any form of cardio exercise that has been approved by his or her doctor. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), cardio exercises should be performed while keeping the heart rate at 50 to 65 percent of maximum heart rate for beginners, and 60 to 75 percent for more seasoned exercisers. Maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting your age from 220. Guidelines issued in 2011 by ACSM recommend performing 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise 5 times per week for most adults. The exercise duration can be slowly increased as stamina improves, provided you are able to stay within your target heart rate zone.

Warnings and Precautions

Asthma does not normally preclude you from exercise. In fact, exercise is generally encouraged. But if you're starting a new exercise regimen or are looking to intensify your workouts to build more cardio stamina, first talk with your asthma doctor. You want to be sure the regimen is safe for you. You also want to find out exactly what to do if you have a symptom flare-up. In some situations, your doctor might recommend a change in your asthma medications or dosages.

If your asthma symptoms do not subside when the exercise is stopped or if they fail to respond to initial treatment, like a rescue inhaler, seek immediate medical attention.

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