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When a child has asthma, many parents do things that restrict their exercise or physical activity. They may be kept inside while other kids go sledding, or told not to run as hard or exert themselves so much. The problem is that this feeds into a downward cycle, leading to the type of inactivity that will only worsen their symptoms.

How much exercise should children with asthma get?

The CDC recommends that children with asthma engage in the same amount of physical activity as other kids their age, which is at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day for children ages 6 to 17.

The benefits of exercise for kids with asthma

Despite what people might initially believe, recent studies have found that physical activity isn’t harmful to people with asthma, and may in fact play an important role in managing their condition. Laboratory studies on animals with asthma have found that exercise seems to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. and a report published in 2012 by the Cochrane Database Systems Review (a medical journal that reviews health care decisions) looked at 19 studies that examined exercise and asthma. It was found that physical activity had either no effect on patients’ asthma control, or it actually increased the number of symptom-free days and decreased the severity of asthma. (Wang, 2013) Anecdotally, some kids report that they haven’t had an asthma attack since becoming more physically active.

In this way, it’s quite possible that asthma may work much like allergies and other modern conditions, in that the less exposure children get to something, the more sensitive they become.

How kids with asthma can exercise safely: Reducing the risk of an asthma attack during exercise

There are several precautions parents can take to reduce a child’s risk of an asthma attack during exercise:

1. Be sure you have a plan in place to control your child’s asthma. Some kids may benefit from the use of an inhaler BEFORE exercising. Consult your pediatrician on this.

2. Break into it gradually. Have kids do some warm-up exercises before going all out. An attack is more likely when heart rate quickens very suddenly.

3. Once kids are warmed up, encourage them to sustain physical activity for at least 20 minutes. Their heart rate should stay sustained at around 120 to 180 beats per minute.

4. Cool down gradually. Many asthma attacks strike shortly after stopping exercise. Don’t have a child go from running sprints to sitting. Have them moderately tone down their level of activity for 5 to 10 minutes, which will decrease the likelihood of an attack. So if a child has been running all out in a soccer game, have them jog lightly on the sidelines, then walk back and forth so that it’s not such a sudden jolt to their system.

5. If your child also has allergies, it may be best to try and arrange indoor exercise regimens, especially on high pollen/mold-spore or high pollution days.

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