Working Out Can Improve Asthma Symptoms

Are you worried that exercise could trigger an asthma attack? It's a not uncommon fear, and in the past, "There was a belief that people with asthma shouldn't do physical activity as it might trigger an asthma attack," says Simon L. Bacon, PhD, professor of exercise science at Concordia University in Montreal.

But not only is this belief false, but exercise can actually help improve asthma symptoms, according to a new study from Bacon and his team of researchers at Concordia, the HŰpital du Sacrť-Coeur de Montrťal, and other institutions.

The findings, published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, found that people with asthma who exercised the recommended 30 minutes a day were two-and-a-half times more likely to have their asthma symptoms under control compared to those who didnít exercise.

Consistency Is Key

While itís not the first of its kind, this study is one of the larger ones, and one of the few that included the average physical activity that people do, like walking, riding bicycles, and yoga. "Nothing strenuous, but moderate-intensity exercise that raises the heart rate," explains Bacon. (Thatís not to say people with asthma canít run or take a spin class. Itís that the benefits were noted in people doing average, more leisurely, physical activity.)

The researchers interviewed 643 people with asthma by telephone; participants also completed questionnaires about their asthma control, quality of life, and physical activity within the last year. About 38 percent of the study participants reported no physical activity, which mirrors the general population.

However, about 400 people did perform some form of exercise, with 100 being active for the recommended amount of time (30 minutes at least five days a week). "Those 100 people did really well in terms of their asthma control, but the others who exercised saw benefits too," said Bacon. The more exercise you do, the more benefit you'll getóbut anything will help.

Year-round exercise produced the best results. Montreal, where the participants were from, has extreme temperatures in winter and summer. "Obviously, people exercised more in the summer, but the association between exercise and controlling symptoms was stronger in the winter months," Bacon said. "So the people who exercised year-round were the best at controlling asthma symptoms." It's possible that the year-round exercise played a key role in reducing symptoms, or it may have been that those with better asthma control were able to continue exercising in the winter.

Getting Active With Asthma

"For the best results, you need to be consistent and persistent." This can be tough during the winter, but it's especially important to keep moving then, since "The cold can have a negative impact on your lung function," according to Bacon.

It takes planning, but if you can get to the gym, drive to a mall and walk around for 30 minutes, or even walk up and down a flight of stairs for 30 minutes, you'll get there.

If you are one of the approximately 25.7 million Americans with asthma and want to getóand stayóactive, Bacon recommends the following (after speaking with your doctor, of course):

  1. Use a bronchodilator before any physical activity. It will open up the airways and prevent them from restricting.
  2. Finish your workout with a cool-down. The cool-down period is when an attack is most likely to happen. By slowing your heart rate progressively, your lungs transition easier. If you only have 30 minutes for a walk; then walk briskly for 25 minutes, and slowly reduce your pace for the last five minutes for your breathing to acclimate to normal.

Simon L. Bacon, PhD, reviewed this article.


Simon L. Bacon, PhD. Phone interview with study author April 4, 2016.

Bacon SL, Lemiere C, Moullec G, Ninot G, Pepin V, Lavoie KL. "Association Between Patterns of Leisure Time Physical Activity and Asthma Control in Adult Patients." BMJ Open Resp Res 2015;2:e000083 doi:10.1136/bmjresp-2015-000083.

Lara J. Akinbami, Jeanne E. Moorman, Cathy Bailey, Hatice S. Zahran, Michael King, Carol A. Johnson, and Xiang Liu. "Trends in Asthma Prevalence, Health Care Use, and Mortality in the United States, 2001Ė2010." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics NCHS Data Brief No. 94, May 2012.