Originally Published in Parade on 5/30/24

If you’re one of the more than 27 million Americans living with asthma, you likely know that avoiding your triggers is an important part of managing the condition. Following your doctor’s orders and keeping an inhaler on hand are also crucial. But doctors say some additional lifestyle habits can help you deal with asthma.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and swelling in your airways. It can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Many of the habits that you focus on for your overall health—think: healthy eating, exercising and reducing stress—can reduce overall inflammation in the body too, which will help you manage asthma, explains Dr. Maxcie Sikora, MD, an allergist and immunologist at AllerVie Health in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

But, while healthy lifestyle habits are important for dealing with asthma, these changes shouldn’t replace any treatments recommended by your doctor, says Dr. Roma Mehta, MD, a pulmonologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Having a comprehensive plan with your physician is always best.”

Still, doctors say it’s a good idea to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits that can make a difference for people with asthma. Here’s an overview.

The One Lifestyle Habit That Could Make a Huge Difference in Severe Ashtma

Foods containing sulfites—including dried fruits, wine, beer, pickled foods, shrimp, lemon juice and packaged potatoes—have been shown to provoke asthma attacks for some patients, Dr. Mehta says. So, she recommends limiting your intake of sulfite-containing foods if you have asthma.

Research shows that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may help reduce inflammation and offer positive benefits for adults with poorly controlled asthma.

The DASH eating plan emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy, poultry, fish and vegetable oils. It also suggests limiting fatty meats, sugary beverages and ultra-processed foods.

Many packaged or ultra-processed foods contain preservatives, additives and sweeteners that can increase inflammation in the body, according to Dr. Sikora. Reducing your intake could decrease inflammation, which could help you manage asthma.

Embracing a healthy diet could also help you lose excess body weight, which helps lower overall inflammation, she explains.

“If you’re watching what you’re eating and have an overall healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise, you will likely see some definite quality-of-life improvements in patients with asthma,” Dr. Mehta adds.

Other Lifestyle Changes That Can Help

Don’t slack on physical activity

A common misconception is that people with asthma shouldn’t exercise, Dr. Mehta says. But it’s not true. Regular aerobic exercise can boost anti-inflammatory effects for patients with asthma, research shows.

“The more aerobic activities a person with asthma can do, the more efficient the lungs become,” Dr. Sikora says. “The worst thing a person with asthma can do is be sedentary.”

If intense cardio isn’t your thing, she says walking can suffice. Just strive to get about 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week, Dr. Mehta adds.

However, some people have exercise-induced asthma, where their airways constrict when they’re physically active. Dr. Mehta says these individuals shouldn’t skip exercise but should find activities that don’t trigger asthma attacks, such as less rigorous activities, shorter spurts of activity or indoor workouts.

“What we recommend is start slow and discuss it with your physician,” she continues. “We still very much recommend exercise.”

Keep your stress in check

Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises have also been shown to improve asthma, Dr. Mehta says. “They’re all breathing exercises that focus on flow, deep breathing to help you learn how to better inhale air.”

These activities might also help reduce stress, which is an important part of managing asthma, she adds. Stress has been shown to cause asthma attacks, and sometimes panic attacks and asthma attacks can share similar symptoms.

But it’s crucial to address the underlying causes of stress, Dr. Mehta emphasizes, and that might mean seeking mental health treatment.

“The better we have the stress and anxiety controlled, we may have better success in controlling your asthma,” she explains.

Stay away from your triggers

Another important lifestyle habit for managing asthma is knowing your triggers and avoiding them.

Triggers can vary from person to person but often include pollen, pets, dust, mold, smoke, strong perfume, cleaning products or air pollution.

“While we can’t avoid going out all the time, just be aware,” Dr. Mehta says. For example, she recommends using weather apps to check pollen counts and always carrying your inhaler in case you encounter a trigger and have an asthma attack.

Continue following your treatment plan

Paying attention to your diet, exercising more frequently, minimizing stress and avoiding your triggers can help you manage asthma and lower your risk for other chronic illnesses, Dr. Sikora says.

But these modifications aren’t meant to replace traditional asthma treatments, including inhalers, she adds. The best treatment is to work with your doctor on a plan that’s tailored to you.

“When asthma is not treated, it can lead to a reduction in lung function that could lead to loss of daily quality of life,” Dr. Sikora explains.

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