The researchers say 30 minutes of exercise every day, all year round, can help adults with asthma have good control of their symptoms.
For the study, published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, researchers analyzed levels of physical activity in 643 participants diagnosed with asthma.
They found that participants who exercised the recommended amount on a regular basis were nearly 2.5 times more likely to have good control of their symptoms, compared with those who did no exercise.
The exercise does not have be strenuous, like running marathons, explains lead author Simon Bacon, a professor in the Department of Exercise Science at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He says:
"Just 30 minutes a day of walking, riding a bike, doing yoga - anything active, really - can result in significant reduction of asthma symptoms."
Asthma is a chronic disease where the person experiences recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. During the attacks - whose severity and frequency varies from person to person - the lining of the airways swells, causing them to narrow and restrict the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
Asthma cannot be cured, but appropriate management can control the disease and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 235 million people currently suffer from asthma around the world. In Canada, where the study took place, around 3 million people have asthma, 60% of whom report having poor control of their symptoms.
Asthma attacks during exercise can be avoided with simple measures
Prof. Bacon and colleagues note that while there is evidence that exercise benefits the health of patients with asthma, most of it comes from studies of children. They wanted to investigate what effect exercise might have on asthma control in adults.
The conventional advice to people with asthma has been to discourage exercise because it was thought to trigger asthma attacks. But the researchers say it is possible to avoid this with simple precautions, as Prof. Bacon explains:
"The issue of exercise-induced bronchospasm is real - but if you use your reliever medication, blue puffer, before you exercise, and then take the time to cool down afterwards, you should be okay. Even if you have asthma, there's no good reason not to get out there and exercise."
He and his team found that of the 643 participants in the study, only 100 reported doing the optimal 30 minutes of exercise a day. As many as 245 reported doing none at all.
Prof. Bacon says these figures reflect the population in general - 40% of people do not exercise at all.
He urges people to bear in mind that doing something is better than doing nothing, and more is better than less. "Even the smallest amount of activity is beneficial," he notes.
He remarks on the importance of the exercise being year-round, including the winter months, when fitness levels tend to ease off in line with temperature and cold air can trigger asthma symptoms.
Prof. Bacon suggests if you cannot exercise outside, then go to the gym, or failing that, use a staircase or the shopping mall; just be creative and find environments indoors where cold is not an issue.
He hopes doctors will take note of their findings and perhaps even prescribe exercise:
"It would be great to see physicians recommending physical activity to patients with asthma, alongside traditional pharmacological treatments."
Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned that infant use of asthma medication, may be linked to stunted growth. Researchers found that the use of inhaled corticosteroids during the first 2 years of life may be associated with a reduced rate of growth in development.