These lifestyle moves that can help you breathe easier.

Samantha Cassetty, M.S. RD
March 12, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images / mapodile

More than 25 million Americans have asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition in the airways that can cause wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Symptoms can be triggered by a host of things, like pollen, changes in the weather or airborne irritants like smoke or dust. And while medication is often the front-line way of managing asthma (along with avoiding suspected culprits, when possible), new research is discovering that healthy lifestyle choices, including the habits here, can help too.

Fuel with Flavonoids

People with asthma have inflamed airways, making them more sensitive to outside irritants. But antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies may quell that inflammation and ease symptoms, according to a review published in the journal Nutrients. The researchers found that eating produce was associated with less wheezing and lower overall asthma severity. Additional research suggests that eating colorful fruits and vegetables high in flavonoids—like berries, red cabbage, kale, grapes and apples—may have a particularly strong anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect.

Get a Move On

It's a myth that physical activity and asthma can't mix. "Most patients with well-controlled asthma have no problem with regular exercise," says Mitchell Grayson, M.D., chair-person of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's medical scientific council. And it may actually reduce symptoms: a 2020 review of 22 clinical trials found that folks with asthma who regularly did moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as swimming, for 20 minutes or more at least twice a week, significantly improved their lung capacity and the openness of their airways. Grayson recommends warming up for at least 10 minutes, avoiding activity in cold air and, of course, taking appropriate asthma medications.

Just Breathe

As if being stressed isn't bad enough, the tension that comes with it can mimic the breathlessness of asthma symptoms, making it harder to manage. But don't worry: Reining in your anxious mind may help. One small trial published in the journal Thorax found that people with asthma who took an eight-week mindfulness-training class (where volunteers received how-to coaching and were asked to practice for 30 minutes most days of the week) felt that their asthma had significantly less impact on their quality of life compared to those who didn't. Mindfulness training (there are free apps for that) can get you more in tune with your emotions, reducing feelings of panic and allowing you to respond more appropriately to your symptoms.

Forgo the Fragrance

This makes, um, scents, because the perfumes in products are irritants. "Fragrances are notoriously blamed for being a trigger for asthma," says Grayson. According to survey data reported in Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, more than 64% of people with asthma said perfumes, air fresheners and other scented personal products and cleaning supplies induced symptoms. And close to 30% reported that they triggered full-on asthma attacks. It's impossible to avoid aromas entirely, but Grayson suggests opting for fragrance-free products when you can—and definitely steering clear of heavily perfumed people and places.

EatingWell, April 2021