Exercise training helps improve daily life for obese adults with asthma, a new study found. Patients who exercised had improvements in physical activity, asthma-symptom-free days, depression symptoms and sleep apnea, researchers found.
The three-month program targeted both weight loss and exercise through aerobic and resistance training, the study authors wrote in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, reports Reuters.
“In the past, exercise was seen as harmful to asthmatic patients because they’d have a reaction to the exercise and airways would narrow,” said senior study author Dr. Celso Carvalho of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. “However, we’ve learned that exercise can be good for asthma patients and even better for those who are obese.”
“Exercise can actually reduce airway inflammation with these patients,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho and colleagues randomly assigned 55 obese adults with asthma to participate either in a weight-loss program with exercise, including aerobic training and weightlifting, or a weight-loss program that focused on nutrition, psychological therapies and breathing and stretching exercises.
After two sessions per week for three months, people in the weight loss and exercise training group had increased their step count by more than 3,000 steps per day, compared to about 730 steps per day in the group that didn’t get exercise training.
In addition, the exercise group had about 15 asthma-symptom-free days per month, on average, compared to about 9 days per month for the control group. The exercise group also had greater improvements in depression symptoms, sleep quality and obstructive sleep apnea.
“Both groups experienced some benefit, but the exercise really upped the results,” Carvalho said. “We believe exercise altogether improves self-esteem, which helps with less depressive symptoms and also sleeping better.”
“In general, we have the conviction that non-pharmacologic treatment options are important in the management of asthma,” said Dr. Alex van ‘t Hul of Radbound University Medical Center in Nijmegan, Netherlands. van ‘t Hul, who wasn’t involved with this study, researches physical activity and asthma.
“There is a tendency by doctors to rely on pharmacological treatment and neglect non-pharmacological interventions,” he told Reuters Health by email. “This study adds to the body of knowledge that this tendency is incorrect.”
A limitation of the study is that it didn’t report on patients’ exercise capacity at the start, van ‘t Hul said. Overall, 40 percent of the exercise group saw a 40 percent improvement in muscle strength, and 11 participants were reclassified to a lower obesity class.
“These findings can be applied to the general population for other diseases as well,” said Dr. Vibeke Backer of Copenhagen University in Denmark, who wasn’t involved with this study.
In their own studies, Backer and colleagues have found that exercise helps asthma patients of all weight categories. They’re now researching how asthma control changes during an eight-week exercise program. Ultimately, they want to understand whether exercise can help asthma patients reduce their reliance on their medication.