How to increase lung capacity for running with asthma

Do you suffer from asthma and are seeking ways to enhance your lung function?

Easy to follow tips and experience to improve lung capacity for asthmatics.

I am a runner and I have asthma. Sounds contradictory doesn’t it? But it is true, and I hope to pass on to you my experience of running and increasing my lung capacity as an asthmatic.

I was born with asthma and eczema. For many sufferers, the two often go hand in hand. I would probably class myself as moderate severity for both of these “ailments”, with each presenting different issues when running. But I’ll stick to what I have experienced with asthma in this article, and talk about running and eczema some other time.

If you would like to know more about increasing your lung capacity as an asthmatic, then please read on.


I’m a runner, not a great runner but a runner. I try to run at least three times a week depending on the temperature and weather. Often my running will increase in frequency and distance during the colder months, and drop off in summer when I mix my running with cycling.

My asthma could be deemed moderate. Although in my younger years it was severe. During my childhood, often I would be pulled off the park or from the backyard to have the nebulizer – a machine that pumps air through liquid medicine to produce gas which an asthmatic breathes in. The gas, that is infused with medicine, reduces the inflammation in the lungs of the asthmatic. Thus widening the airways, to allow for normal breathing.

As I grew older I used the nebulizer less often, but would maintain using my ventolin. I probably now only use Ventolin once to twice a month. But will depend on the weather and temperature, pollution, and many other reasons.

Asthma and overweight

During my younger years, I wasn’t the most active of students, and when I begun working, I was even far less active. At only 5ft 2, I reached a weight of 60kgs at my heaviest. Now this may not sound heavy, but for a short guy, it means overweight!

Now in an odd way, during one period of my life, I was working 7 days a week, from 9am to 10pm for about three months. My asthma and eczema was well under control because I never went outdoors! I was locked up in an office, sitting in front of a computer slaving away. I was so busy and under stress that body had no time to be wheezy or itchy.

I recognized a life of continuous work was not a life that I wanted to lead. I was becoming fat, unhealthy, and closed off from the world. At this time of my life any form of exercise did not exist. But my asthma was under control. But I might as well have lived in a plastic bubble, if controlling my asthma was my goal.

Running with Asthma in Pollution

I resigned from my crazy stressful job and took a sabbatical in China, to study Mandarin for over a year. This was one of those most fun times in my life, however the pollution in Beijing was (and probably still is) hazardous.

When I went to China I found that my asthma worsened. This could have been because of the pollution but I was not sure. I also found that during the springtime the trees with pollinate quite often. And that could have been the reason – pollination rather than pollution worsened my asthma? I wasn’t sure but I was constantly having Ventolin and to quell my wheezy breathing.

During my time in China, I also played a bit of half court basketball outdoors and found my asthma returning in full force. The pollution most likely contributed, but also the pollen during spring and dust storms during autumn. I was using my ventolin probably 3 to 4 times a week. My lung capacity was at an all time low. And I continued to be unfit and unhealthy until I returned to Australia.

On my return to Australia began to work. And as I worked more weight. It wasn’t until to go for a run with my colleague. He placed a bet that he would beat me which I agreed upon. And naturally of course he beat me hands down. I could not run further than 500m without gasping for air. My lung capacity was that it’s worse and my asthma then came about. I needed a few puffs of Ventolin to recover. I was wheezing and I had a headache and I was badly out of shape. After this incident to get back into shape. I began to run three times a week Mrs Macquarie’s chair the Sydney Opera House then back to work. I found that my lung capacity increased. It increased greatly on runs where I would sprint and then walk sprint and then walk. It was this interval training that kept my asthma at Bay and increase my lung capacity. I do not pretend that my asthma has disappear as occasion in my asthma does return being fit and healthy does help with reducing the impacts of asthma.

Since running three times a week and then proceeded to run half marathons and a marathon. My lung capacity actually did improve (but not as greatly as would if I was performing interval training). My stamina was at a peak. Long runs gave me injuries in my knee. ITB syndrome comes about when you do not stretch enough and with repetitive pounding on the pavements inflamed from the rubbing of the tendon.

Running while wheezing doesn’t increase lung capacity

It was not long ago that I began to eat Vegemite for my breakfast. In Australia Vegemite is a popular form of bread spread (like peanut butter) which is made from yeast. It is dark brownish in colour.

Occasionally I would eat breakfast before I would run. Not often, but occasionally. And sometimes it was after eating Vegemite. When I did run after eating Vegemite, I found I was out of breath!

For a while I couldn’t understand why.

It was only after several runs that I realised that I was allergic to Vegemite. The I was allergic to the yeast in the Vegemite which caused inflammation in my lungs. It was a cause of asthma, and after taking a couple of puffs of ventolin, I felt almost instant relief.

On the days of running, without releasing the cause, I would continue to run through but with very little breathing capacity. This, of course, is not the smartest thing to do, however I never run with a ventolin and I always simply just want to finish my runs (without walking). Very silly, I know.

I also, thought, if I can run through it, maybe I can increase my lung capacity, since I am pushing my breathing. This is another crazy idea, no pain no gain.


Always clean your ventolin and have one before running

You should always try and keep your ventolin clean. Often users will lose the cap that comes with the Ventolin inhaler, and that’s not a good thing, because dust and germs can accumulate on the inside.

My ventolin – I always lose the cap
Wash your ventolin! Flush it with water

Asthma and Long Runs

Running long runs are great for losing weight, and they do increase your lung capacity to a certain threshold. I remember when I was training for the half and full marathon, I had reached a light weight of 50kgs. Relatively fit, my lung capacity was quite good, but it could have been better.

The issue with running long runs is that it can take a long time for training, and I began to suffer injuries. My knee would often become inflamed, and I wouldn’t be able to place any pressure on it.

Asthma and Short Runs

Treadmill short runs are the best for asthmatics. Indoor treadmill short runs allow for measured sprints. Often referred to as interval training, sprint training is what I found the most effective way to increase lung capacity whilst escape any pollution or allergens.

In running as hard as you can for short bursts of time, the lungs are stretched and breathing is pushed to it’s maximum. The heart is pumping hard, and thus after several intervals, you have given your lungs a work out.

After several days of interval training, you will find your lung capacity increasing.

FAQ

Should I run if I have asthma?
Having asthma shouldn’t prevent you from running. But if you are wheezing and struggling to breath, then you should not run. Do not push through the asthma attack. You should have medication and wait for the asthma episode to subside.
Are long or short runs more effective for improving lung capacity for asthmatics?
I have found interval running is the most effective for increasing lung capacity as an asthmatic. Having said that, long runs provide a great base for lung core strength. Running short runs, I found were the least effective, unless it was pushed hard and fast.
How long does it take to see results?
Everyone is different. However, if I assume I am an average runner, then based on my results your lung capacity should increase within 10 to 20 days. Don’t run with asthma, have Ventolin or becotide before you run, to clear airways and improve effectivness of the training.