Running with Asthma: Using the Air Quality Health Index to Plan the Perfect Time to Be Outside


Having asthma or another respiratory condition doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy exercise, reach your fitness goals, or even become a champion. But it does mean paying close attention to your body and the main triggers of symptoms, such as outdoor air conditions.

And the best way to do that is by checking the Air Quality Health Index, or AQHI.

The AQHI assigns a rating between 1 and 10 for the air quality in your region: the higher the number, the greater the risk. People with asthma and other health conditions often experience more severe symptoms — issues like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or irritated eyes and throat. But even people who are otherwise healthy can feel the effects of air pollution (and especially when poor air quality combines with extreme heat).

Tuning in to the AQHI will let you know when it’s a good time to reschedule that workout, move your run indoors, stay in the shade, drink extra water, or simply take it easy. It’s free, as easy to check as the weather, available everywhere, and always being updated. Just head to www.AirHealth.cato access the service.

To get a more personal perspective, we spoke to Matt Norminton, a former USports All Canadian and national medalist in both Cross Country and Indoor Track, and a top-ranked marathon runner for Canada, finishing 2nd at the national championships. Matt has also had asthma since his teens — and since then, he’s been passionate about tools and strategies to protect his health and that of his fellow athletes.

Matt took some time away from coaching track at the University of Edmonton to speak with us about managing his asthma and leading a healthy lifestyle when air quality takes a dip.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What keeps you busy these days?
I used to be a competitive runner, but not so much these days. But I still train and race and also play some men’s league hockey!

What influenced you to start running competitively?
My father used to run after work every day, so I joined him — it was good training for hockey and soccer. I used to race for my schools so I could get a day off school and then just stuck with it. In university, I eventually switched to running seriously.

When were you diagnosed with asthma? And how do you manage it today?
I was diagnosed in high school — I think Grade 11 or 12. Now, I use a daily inhaler (it used to be Pulmicourt but now I use Symbacourt) and another, Bricanyl, before harder exercise.

What do you do if the air quality is poor outside? How do you manage your level of activity on those days?
I’ll move my activity indoors — something inside on the x-trainer or treadmill.

Do you use the Air Quality Health Index?
More so now as a coach than as an athlete. I’ll check the AQHI when it seems we’re having some air quality issues to see how poor the air actually is, and then cancel practice and suggest people go inside to be safe.

What advice would you give to aspiring or current athletes who have just been diagnosed with a limiting health condition?
Work with your doctors and health team to try to stay as active as you can! You may have to adjust your intensity or amount of exercise at times, but there’s no need to stop completely. Use your inhalers as needed and keep up on services like the AQHI.


Scout Environmental, The Running Room, and PharmaChoice — with support from Health Canada — are on a mission to encourage Canadians to use the Air Quality Health Index, protect themselves from air pollution, and lead healthy and active lives.

 For more information on this public health campaign, visit

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