According to the CDC, about 19.2 million people in the U.S. have asthma. In other words, 7.7% of American adults (1) have a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. The rates of overweight and obesity are high as well. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of asthma or aggravates the condition in people who already have it (2). Weight loss helps with asthma control (3), and this post will show you how to do it safely and effectively.
1. Know Your Physical Limitations
The first and most important thing to do for a successful weight loss is to understand your body. All of us have certain physical limitations that are particularly pronounced in men and women with asthma. It’s a good idea to log your asthma attacks, especially the circumstances in which they occur. This will give you a more detailed insight about your condition and help identify situations that may induce your attacks.
For example, you may notice that certain physical activities and movements can cause asthma attacks. Some symptoms are likewise aggravated by pollen or engaging in more vigorous workouts. Factors that lead to asthma attacks are numerous, but the physical limitations they cause are important.
The goal is to avoid or decrease exposure to factors that induce asthma attacks in order to jumpstart weight loss without jeopardizing your health.
Once you’ve acknowledged your physical limitations and identified triggers of asthma attacks, it’s time to start exercising. Now you’re probably thinking exercise isn’t safe at all for people with asthma, but it is. You see, studies show that regular exercise improves asthma control in adults. Physical activity also decreases the use of asthma rescue medication (4).
What’s more, adding exercise to a weight loss program should be considered as a great strategy for asthma management. In one study, people who followed a caloric restriction diet and an exercise plan lost more weight than their counterparts who focused on diet only (5).
Daily exercise improves lung capacity. It increases the amount of oxygen the body can use. Additionally, physical activities increase blood flow to the lungs and heart.
Regular exercise is necessary for both weight loss and asthma management, but you do need to be careful regarding the movements and activities you choose. You can only enjoy all the health benefits of exercising if you’ll choose activities and movements that will help strengthen your lungs without worsening inflammation.
Generally speaking, low-impact activities are more suitable for people with asthma. Exercises that involve brief bursts of exertion don’t overwork the lungs and are less likely to cause asthma attacks. Because your goal is to slim down safely, you may want to try swimming, walking, hiking, recreational biking, stretching exercises.
Always start slowly and work your way up. Typical workouts should last for approximately 30 minutes, but when you’re just starting, a 10-minute workout is safer if you have asthma. Gradually increase the length of your workout. This technique will help decrease your risk of having an asthma attack during exercise.
If you’re not sure what to do, you may want to consult a personal trainer who will create a workout schedule for you considering your health condition and fitness level.
By sticking to your exercise routine, you can slim down and also notice that your asthma symptoms have become easier to manage.
3. Keep an eye on pollen counts.
Places where you exercise are equally important as the workouts themselves. Does the area have a high pollen count? If yes, it could be difficult for you as pollen is one of the most common triggers for asthma attacks. The same applies to exercise areas with a lot of allergens. You won’t be able to do your best, obtain the benefits, and enjoy your workout. To fix that problem, you need to check pollen count before every workout. If the count is too high, you may want to avoid exercising outdoors. Also, home workouts are a practical and effective tool, but avoid doing the exercises in dusty basements with "stale" air.
4. Have realistic expectations.
Unrealistic expectations are a common occurrence, especially when weight loss is involved. It’s not uncommon for people to believe they’ll achieve a significant weight loss within just a short timeframe. This kind of thinking harms your mental health and decreases motivation. At the very beginning of your weight loss journey, make sure to have realistic expectations and set reasonable goals. Sure, your goal is to lose weight but strive to set a target to lose a certain number of pounds within a month or two. Divide big goals into smaller milestones. Each time you achieve a certain milestone, you’ll feel motivated to keep going.
You can set the right expectations and goals with the help of a professional dietitian or a doctor. They are the best people who can advise you about the safest things you can do to slim down if you have asthma.
When you set realistic goals, you can imagine you’re on a mission to achieve it. The level of excitement about the whole process will increase instantly.
5. Eat a healthy diet.
Aside from exercise, another fundamental aspect of a successful weight loss is a healthy, well-balanced diet. That doesn’t change in people who have asthma. A combination of regular activity and diet modifications leads to the best results.
Although there is no strict diet plans for asthma patients except avoiding those that you have allergies with, some nutrients and foods are of particular benefit for lung function (6):
- Vitamin D reduces the risk of severe asthma attacks requiring the use of steroid tablets and in some cases, hospital admission (7). Not only does vitamin D reduce the number of asthma attacks, but it can also promote weight loss in general and reduce your waistline (8). On the flip side, deficiency in vitamin D may contribute to weight gain and obesity-related complications, which can, in turn, aggravate your asthma. Good sources of vitamin D include eggs, fortified orange juice, salmon, milk, and fortified milk.
- Sufficient levels of vitamin A will support lung function. It's also an antioxidant and helps protect your body, including lungs, from oxidative stress. Good sources of vitamin A include cantaloupes, carrots, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin E will reduce eosinophilic inflammation, a type of airway inflammation common among asthma patients (9). The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of vitamin E will benefit you greatly. You'll find vitamin E in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and fortified products.
- Vitamin C prevents constriction of the airways in the lungs and may halve the frequency of respiratory symptoms after strenuous exercise (10). Like vitamins A and E, vitamin C is an antioxidant too. You can obtain vitamin C from citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, red and green pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, among others.
- Magnesium acts as a bronchodilator, which helps widen airways in the lungs, thus helpful in alleviating various symptoms of asthma, including shortness of breath (11). Good sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
Simple changes in dietary patterns can make the management of asthma a lot easier and also help you slim down. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet is one of the best options to prevent asthma and its symptoms, while the Western diet increases the risk of asthma (12). What we can learn from this is that a well-balanced diet enriched with fruits and vegetables can support both asthma management and weight loss. Of course, this includes ditching junk food from the menu.
You also need to avoid sulfites because they can trigger asthma symptoms (13), foods that cause gas, and artificial sweeteners.
6. Eat healthy snacks.
Cravings for snacks often derail us from our goal to lose weight. That happens when we opt for unhealthy snacks laden in sugar, unhealthy fats, or too much salt alongside various chemicals. However, successful weight loss is all about converting unhealthy habits into healthier alternatives. So, if you simply must eat a snack, you may want to opt for something healthy like celery sticks instead of French fries. The best way to stick to this decision is to ditch all unhealthy snacks from your home today and avoid buying them. That way, you won't be tempted to eat unhealthy snacks. Also, it's practical not to go grocery shopping when you are hungry.
7. Eat slowly.
Do you rush to eat everything on your plate as soon as possible? Habits such as eating fast or failing to chew food properly can lead to overeating. This may worsen asthma symptoms and induce more weight gain. When you eat too fast or don't chew food thoroughly, the brain considers it as overeating. That happens because it can take a while for the brain to realize you've had enough to eat and that you're not hungry anymore. Therefore, a simple way of starting a safer and more effective weight loss approach is to start eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly.
8. Stay hydrated.
Do you drink enough water during the day? Such a simple thing to do, yet most of us completely forget about it. Insufficient intake of water can aggravate asthma symptoms and worsens exercise-induced asthma (14). Water is crucial for our health and asthma management. You’ll also be happy to know that water intake can promote weight loss (15). When you’re thirsty, you’re more likely to crave unhealthy foods and overeat. On the other hand, staying hydrated throughout the day can create a sense of fullness and thereby prevent overeating and lower the number of calories you consume.
Basically, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is crucial for asthma management and weight loss alike. But “regular” water is a far better option than flavored waters that are so popular today. Flavored water may contain hidden sugars.
If you tend to forget to drink enough water during the day, you can always set up reminders for yourself to drink between eight and ten glasses of water. Nowadays, there are even some apps that remind you to drink water regularly.
9. Don’t let setbacks stop you.
Weight loss is a challenging endeavor, even more so if you also have asthma. There are many obstacles ahead. Some are easier to conquer than others. But don’t let any of them stop you from continuing what you have started. For example, you may notice the regular exercise and a healthy diet helped you slim down and improved the management of asthma symptoms. However, asthma attacks still occur from time to time? That’s not a reason to give up or lose motivation. Setbacks are bound to happen in different forms for different people. But you just need to change your perspective. Instead of considering them as game over, you need to step it up even more and take them as a challenge for you to overcome. This is when the biggest weight loss results are achieved. And with improved weight loss, you can expect asthma symptoms to improve as well.
10. Get enough sleep.
A good rest at night is crucial for weight loss and asthma management. For example, insufficient sleep can increase the frequency of asthma attacks in adults (16). At the same time, sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain, impairs glucose metabolism, increases blood pressure, and affects the regulation of appetite (17).
Since lack of sleep worsens asthma and contributes to weight gain, the solution to this problem is evident - you need to get enough sleep during the night.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep during the night. You may want to set up a sleep pattern where bedtime and wake times are always the same every morning and night. A good night's rest will give you more energy for your workouts but also improves health and clears air passages in your body.
Both asthma and weight gain are widely prevalent. Overweight people are at a higher risk of developing asthma attacks and symptoms. Weight loss is challenging but achievable. Simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way. These include low-impact physical activities, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and understanding your physical limitations. Strong willpower will help you push through the setbacks and achieve your weight loss goal successfully. Make sure to consult your doctor before you try anything.