Got Asthma? Get off the Couch

Exercise pros outweighed cons for most asthma patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For some asthma patients, exercise can trigger shortness of breath and other related symptoms — but new evidence suggests that having asthma doesn't have to keep you out of the game.

A new study from Brazil found that exercise improved breathing in asthma patients and decreased symptoms in patients who added exercise to their regular treatment regimen.

“These findings suggest that adding exercise as an [additional] therapy to [medication] can improve the main features of [asthma],” wrote lead study author Celso R. F. Carvalho, PhD, of Sao Paulo University School of Medicine in Brazil, and colleagues.

David Winter, MD, chief clinical officer, president and chairman of the board of Baylor Health Care System's HealthTexas Provider Network, told dailyRx News that "Our bronchial tubes have the ability to regulate airflow by constricting and expanding as needed by our level of activity. Those afflicted with bronchial asthma constrict to an excessive degree which restricts airflow. This has inhibited many asthmatics from exercising. This new study concludes that a regular exercise program has the potential to improve asthma symptoms and minimize flare-ups."

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma patients typically experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), more than 25 million people have asthma in the US.

According to Dr. Carvalho and team, asthma patients may avoid exercise for fear of worsening their symptoms. However, according to past research, exercise improves physical fitness and may reduce the need for inhalers.

Dr. Carvahlo and team looked at 58 patients between the ages of 20 and 59. These patients were divided into two groups. Both groups engaged in a 30-minute yoga breathing exercise twice a week. One group also spent 35 minutes exercising on a treadmill twice a week for three months.

These patients kept a symptom diary, which included information about breathing and other aspects of treatment — such as how often they used inhalers.

Dr. Carvahlo and team measured bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) at the beginning and end of the three-month period. BHR indicates how fast the patient’s airways constrict and is also an indicator of inflammation. Dr. Carvalho and team also tested for a protein (cytokine) and an antibody (IgE) — both of which indicate inflammation.

A lower BHR, lower cytokine and lower IgE are all indications that the patient’s asthma is improving.

Dr. Carvahlo and team found that BHR and cytokine presence decreased significantly in the exercise group. BHR did not change in the breathing group.

These researchers found that patients in the exercise group also had fewer bouts of worsening symptoms and more symptom-free days — compared to those in the breathing group.

"Our results demonstrate that aerobic training reduces BHR, systemic inflammation and exacerbation and improved quality of life in adults with moderate to severe persistent asthma," Dr. Carvahlo and colleagues wrote.

This study was published in the June issue of the journal Thorax.

The São Paulo Research Foundation and the Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação—Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.


Review Date: 
June 9, 2015
Last Updated:
June 12, 2015