Why To Exercise Today: Study Finds Better Life With Asthma

runner with inhaler (Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)
(Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)

Here's an eye-opener for many of the 34 million Americans diagnosed with asthma: You may naturally be concerned that exercise will worsen your wheeze, but a small study just out this week suggests quite the opposite. Rather, done carefully and with plenty of warm-up, working out may ultimately improve your breathing and even your mood.

Medpage Today reports here from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology:

ORLANDO — Patients with persistent asthma reported significant improvements in quality of life after four months of structured exercise in a gym, researchers reported here.

Among adult patients participating in the three-times weekly sessions, 78% reported improvements on the asthma quality of life questionnaire compared with 39.5% of controls (P=0.05), according to Thomas A.E. Platts-Mills, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"It's very difficult to get patients with asthma to exercise, even though we know that stretching the smooth muscle in the lungs decreases airway resistance," Platts-Mills said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

"We face three major obstacles to increasing exercise among asthmatics. First, patients think their asthma will worsen if they exercise. Second, gyms are resistant because they're afraid patients will have an asthma attack. And third is the insurance companies, who are just resistant against paying," Platts-Mills said.

The exercise program involved thrice-weekly sessions of aerobic exercise and Pilates. Platts-Mills says the benefits it found suggest that an exercise program for children with asthma might do even more good.

Medpage Today reports:

Patients in the exercise program also reported that they experienced fewer disease-related limitations (41%, P=0.04).

There also was a trend to better emotional state in 50% and the ability to adjust to potentially adverse environmental stimuli in 22%.

Benefits have persisted out to one year, he noted.

Caveats: The study was presented at a conference and has not yet been peer-reviewed. And of course, consult your doctor. But here's a final persuasive line from Platts-Mills:

"Exercise is clearly good for humans, and therefore exercise is good for asthmatics just because they are humans. But it's doing more, because taking deep breaths is a primary form of protection for human lungs," he said.

This program aired on March 7, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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