Keywords: asthma, reactive airway disease, lung function (PubMed Search)
The role of exercise in patients with asthma is complicated.
Asthma symptoms can worsen or be triggered by physical activity. This can lead to avoidance response. Patients with asthma are less physically active than their matched controls.
Recently, however, the role of exercise and physical activity as an adjunct therapy for asthma management has received considerable attention. There is an emerging and promising role of physical activity as a non-pharmacologic treatment for asthma. Exercise reduces inflammatory cytokines and increases anti-inflammatory cytokines thereby reducing chronic airway inflammation.
Physical activity can help improve lung function and boost quality of life. As fitness improves, asthma patients report better sleep, reduced stress, improved weight control, and more days without symptoms.
The Global Initiative for Asthma recommends twice-weekly cardio and strength training. Strength training requires short periods of exertion allowing for periods of rest and recovery. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a promising option for people with asthma. These types of workouts allow ventilation to recover intermittently vs conventional cardio exercises.
A 2021 study in adults with mild-to-moderate asthma found that low volume HIIT classes (three 20-minute bouts/week) significantly improved asthma control. Patients also had improved exertional dyspnea and enjoyment of exercise which will, in turn, increase the odds of further exercise.
A 2022 study compared constant-load exercise versus HIIT in adults with moderate-to-severe asthma. Exercise training lasted 12 weeks (twice/week, 40 minutes/session). Both groups showed similar improvements in aerobic fitness however the HIIT group reported lower dyspnea and fatigue perception scores and higher physical activity levels.
Conclusion: Patients with asthma should be encouraged to safely incorporate exercise in their daily lives bother for overall health benefits but also as an effective non-pharmacologic asthma treatment.
1. O'Neill C, Dogra S. Low volume high intensity interval training leads to improved asthma control in adults. J Asthma. 2021 Sep;58(9):1256-1260.
2. Aparecido da Silva R, Leite Rocco PG, Stelmach R, Mara da Silva Oliveira L, Sato MN, Cukier A, Carvalho CRF. Constant-Load Exercise Versus High-Intensity Interval Training on Aerobic Fitness in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2022 Oct;10(10):2596-2604