There’s a common fear that exercise can exacerbate asthma symptoms, and this fear typically lead asthmatic patients to have lower levels of physical activity and overall fitness compared to the general, healthy population. A new study suggests quite the opposite. Exercise appears to “do an asthmatic good.”
Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal, compared asthmatic patients with control groups in a supervised aerobic exercise program, over a three month period. They specifically compared the outcomes by spirometry, which measures the lung function, and also the levels of inflammatory markers in the sputum. This would indicate the level of inflammation in the lung which is hypothesized as getting worse in asthmatics who engage in exercise.
The studySixty-six patients at three separate research centers were randomized to their usual daily care routines or to those therapies plus supervised exercise that was specifically aerobic in nature. Exercise included three one hour sessions weekly, with each session beginning with a 10 minute warm up, 40 minutes of supervised exercise and a 10 minute cooldown. All subjects that participated in both groups had a physician-verified diagnosis of asthma, a history of less than 60 minutes of planned fitness activities weekly, use of a daily inhaler (a dose of at least 250 mg fluticasone equivalent), and an** Asthma Control Questionnaire** (ACQ) score of at least 125. Follow-up lasted for 12 weeks, and every four weeks target heart rate goals were increased. That means that escalating aerobic challenge was built into the study.
The non-exercising control group was specifically told not to engage in a structured exercise program (meaning not to start or introduce new levels of fitness activities) during the trial.
The results showed that there were slightly better spirometry values in the asthma group that exercised. There was no significant difference in the inflammatory markers in both groups. In fact, ACQ measures improved in the exercising group, and these individuals were also able to significantly reduce use of short-acting beta-agonist medications. This is a significant finding since it contradicts the common thought that exercise can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Waist sizes were also slightly reduced in the exercising group. And though no one in any of the groups had clinical depression, the exercising group showed a small decrease in mean depression scores.
Results also showed an improvement in the sense of well-being as measures by standardized tests of Quality of Life scores (QOL). What is more significant is that there was no difference in the inflammatory markers in blood and sputum in both groups. This suggests that exercise does not have an effect in worsening airway inflammation as it was initially thought.
Coming soon: What about exercise-induced asthma and exercise safety and benefits?
Also check out: 9 Ways Exercise Improves Asthma
Eli Hendel, M.D., is a board-certified internist/pulmonary specialist with board certification in Sleep Medicine. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Keck-University of Southern California School of Medicine, and Qualified Medical Examiner for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, his areas include asthma, COPD, sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, and occupational lung diseases. Favorite hobby? Playing jazz music. Find him on Twitter @Lung_doctor.