How to breathe...

running and asthma

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01/05/2012 at 13:45
Okay, hoping someone can offer me some advice here please. Although on the 'large' side, I am reasonably fit, doing various classes/ gym sessions a week, and a couple of power walked marathons in the last couple of years. I'm signed up to do the Race for Life in June, but more than that, want to be able to run for exercise afterwards, maybe even challenge myself to do more....

I am doing the couch to 5k, and have got to the point where I ran 8 minutes, walked 2, ran another 8, on Sunday. Trying not to over-analyse it, and, on the advice here on this forum, have slowed my speed right down. Legs are fine, body feels fine, but my breathing seems to be a problem. What I noticed on Sunday, is that I am very good at breathing out, but really not very efficient at breathing in enough!!! I am asthmatic, which I'm guessing is part of the problem, but wonder if there are any techniques that might be useful to help me? I really get the feeling that once I have the breathing right, everything else will follow in time.
LIVERBIRD    pirate
01/05/2012 at 14:37
In and out works for me
LIVERBIRD    pirate
01/05/2012 at 14:39

Seriously, if you're having trouble taking air IN, are you on the right meds?

Taking the ventolin inhaler helps too. A couple of puffs just before you start should open the airways up enough to get you sucking some decent air in.

And well done for signing up for the RfL. Run 8 walks 2 sounds good to me!

01/05/2012 at 14:42
Thanks! I do take my brown preventers twice a day, but wonder if a puff of the blue one before running might make a difference. I'd have a chat with the asthma nurse at my surgery, but getting an appointment...

Yes, chuffed to bits at being able to run even for 8 minutes. Spent 40+ years thinking I just wasn't made to run; but determination will, I think, get the better of me.
LIVERBIRD    pirate
01/05/2012 at 14:45

Even Paula Radcliffe takes her inhaler before a race. It really DOES make a difference.

I sympathise. My asthma is unstable at the moment and I can't really work out why. Tell a doctor though and they simply say "well don't run then"

Very helpful.

01/05/2012 at 14:46
Mine's a little worse than usual because I also have hayfever. Probably why the running's so hard.

Need to find a GP that runs, don't we?
LIVERBIRD    pirate
01/05/2012 at 14:49

There's one on here!

She's pretty brill actually. But don't tell her I told you so.....

01/05/2012 at 15:15
LOL, do you know her then ?

aha, lightbulb moment. Just called asthma uk advice line, who were incredibly helpful! I didn't realise there's another sort of inhaler that I might need to be on (was only diagnosed 3 years ago). Have now called my surgery, and 'only' have to wait three weeks (RFL is in six) before I can see someone about it!
Edited: 01/05/2012 at 15:16
02/05/2012 at 21:38
Hi Tina

As a doctor (not the GP mentioned above) and an asthmatic, I would definitely recommend using your ventolin pre-run - two puffs good technique and you should see a big difference.

The thing that has probably helped me most, however, is learning to breathe in through my nose rather than mouth. I used to get really wheezy but forced myself to start nose-breathing and now can do it for at least the first 15 mins of a run which changes everything. Basically the air needs to be warmed and humidified before going into your lungs, otherwise it is irritant and causes inflammation and, you guessed it, tight, burning chest. Your nose is much better at this than your mouth. It will feel hard at first as there is more resistance but just get yourself to do it every other breath or something and then build it up. Obv not if you are congested!!

Finally remember that you are built to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. The natural tendency as you get more out of breath is to cut off exhaling prematurely. This means you get hyperexpanded and find it increasingly difficult to inhale! A simple way to get the rhythm is 'in for two steps, out for four' although obviously you don't want to have to think about this all the way round - just get started then relax and forget about it until you get short of breath.

I still will get wheezy in really cold weather, but otherwise never have symptoms, and have actually come off all my preventer inhalers as the only thing setting off my asthma was running and the above measures have solved it.

Good luck!
02/05/2012 at 23:09

That's really useful, thanks! I might just try counting it for a bit to see how that goes; if I can get the hang of it I won't need to count for long.

Interestingly, did take blue puffs before spin class last night, and it made a big difference, so will try it with running as well in the interim.

11/05/2012 at 13:43

Tina - bit late to the party but my experience when I started running 3 years ago pretty much identical to yours - I was cross-fit via the gym and 20+mile racewalking, but struggling a bit with breathing when starting to run short fast distances. I find ventolin before running really helped at the start, then after a few months I stopped needing it regularly (did not use it at all in my first marathon) though I do need it running outside in hayfever season. I'm off the preventatives too.

Wondered how are you getting on now?

Do you have a peak flow meter? As my aerobic fitness increased I saw my peak flow volumes go right up.

11/05/2012 at 14:00

Hi Katy

Yes, I have a peak flow meter; apparently my peak flow for age/height is very good which is one of the reasons they took so long to diagnose me in the first place; but yes, it has definitely improved even further over the past year since I stepped up the exercise.

Have my appointment with Nurse on Tuesday, but in the meantime have been using Ventolin before exercise and it has helped.... to the point that I actually managed week 5 day 3 of C25K .... 20 minutes continous running, on Monday. Chuffed to bits with that, I can tell you!!

11/05/2012 at 14:12

That's fab, well done you  it's a great feeling when you can measure your own progress like that - which is why I mentioned the peak flow meter as my regular peak flow capacity increased through running from being 420 on a good day to 550+ now.

Good luck for Tuesday. Does your asthma nurse recommend running? Every one I've been to has looked horrified when I say I run (even though it is the one non-medical thing which has ever helped)

11/05/2012 at 17:52

not sure, seem to see a different nurse every time, although one of them is a power walker (like I was/ am). That's one heck of an improvement; my peak flow has gone from 450 to 470.

11/05/2012 at 23:39

I started the C25k just after Xmas and aged 40 and I'm proud to say I can actually now run for (almost) all the 5k. It now takes me about 38mins to complete the 5k compare to the 50mins at the start. I too have asthma and am on symbicort. No blue or brown inhalers for me anymore and i have to say improved asthma.

When I first started i had difficulty even running for 30 seconds. I did get stuck around the 8mins to 12mins run but stuck in a 10min run/2min walk for a few weeks plus i had to repeat some of the weeks just to get my stamina up!

My asthma nurse has also told me to keep on with the exercise. I go kick boxing twice a week too

12/05/2012 at 21:35


I to am asthmatic, use brown inhaler twice a day and when I go running I take two puffs of the blue ventalin inhaler before I go out.

While out I breath while counting my feet, a breath per footfall.  I have worked out that 2 in 2 out works best for me, but did start with 3 and 1, but guess it is whatever works for you.  It does take practice and sometimes counting out loud helps too. 

From my military days I had suggested to me to not think about breathing as such, but count my feet, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 on the left foot landing and the breathing will follow.  Again can seem weird but does work.  Kind of like if you watch films and watch squad runs where they have chants, its the same sort of thing.

I hope that firstly makes sense and is of somesort of help to you.

14/05/2012 at 21:15

I almost always use my blue inhaler before running. I also find that if I'm going to be doing a hard training session like intervals, I need a slow warm up of at least half an hours jogging otherwise my chest just seizes up when I start sprinting.

I count steps for breathing too, two in, two out for a hard but sustainable run. One in two out for a harder effort and one in one out for a flat out sprint finish in a race.

14/05/2012 at 21:57

Tina,  I'm asthmatic, overweight and only started running again in October last year.  Yesterday, I finished my first half-marathon!  I use a symbicort and ventalin inhaler daily.

I always take my ventalin inhaler with me and used it a lot initially, but probably more as a comfort item rather than out of actual need. What I found initially is that I was worrying too much about my asthma, which would lead to a tight chest.  As time progressed, I learned to relax a bit more and had less and less tight chests.

I now have two puffs of ventalin before a run and not worry about it again throughout a whole run. I've found I'm now more in tune with my asthma than ever before.


Good luck with your running!

15/05/2012 at 10:26

Thanks all of you! Appointment is this afternoon, so hopefully will have a little more help.

15/05/2012 at 15:42

What Colin says about worry causing it to flare up is definitely true, at least for some of us. I was tensing up and expecting my asthma to kick off and I think that was contributing to the problem a lot of the time. One night the coach at our club was cycling along behind me watching my technique and he told me to relax my shoulders and drop them down so I could swing my arms more freely. I thought I HAD been reasonably relaxed but as soon as I tried to do what he said I could feel the difference in my chest. Since then I've had less of a problem. Not sure it was purely down to that one thing though, as round about the same time I asked my doctor for better drugs and was put on a budesonide inhaler as well. But keeping my shoulders loose and low definitely feels better in my chest while I'm running.

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