Study Proves Exercise Improves Asthma Control

Hippocrates, who lived about 400 BC, recommended exercise. If you came to him complaining of any chronic disease, he’d encourage you to stay active. He’d do that and also encourage you to eat a healthy diet and take a bath.

If you didn't like that remedy, you could travel to a temple of health and healing. One such place was the Temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus. Of course, if you did that you’d be doing a lot of walking anyway. Along the way, food would be limited. So, you’d be heeding his prescription anyway.

Now, fast forward about 4,500 years. Look to your right! You'll see a young boy at a kitchen table. The boy's name is Teddy Roosevelt. He had a pretty bad case of asthma. Hoping to obtain the best care, his dad hired Dr. Henry Hyde Salter. He was the premiere asthma doctor at the time. 

Dr. Salter prescribed coffee and cigarettes to treat asthma attacks. And, to prevent them, he prescribed exercise. He was the first physician to prescribe exercise specifically for asthma.

So, this would explain why Teddy’s father added a gym to the family home. Teddy would spend lots of time there getting in shape. This may also explain why he continued to stay physically active as an adult.

When it comes to exercise as a means of preventing asthma, Dr. Salter might have been on to something. Today, most asthma experts continue to recommend that all asthmatics exercise. They believe that staying active keeps your heart and lungs in shape.

A study reviewed by Chest in October of 2015 may prove this theory.1

In Montreal, Canada, researchers studied 66 adult asthmatics for 12 weeks. The asthmatics were divided into two groups. Group one participated in supervised aerobic activities. Group two did not participate in any aerobic activity.

The results showed that those in the exercise group had clinically and statistically significant improvements in asthma control. For instance, they used their rescue medicine three times less than those in the control group.1

The study essentially shows that asthmatics who exercised just 30 minutes per day had improved asthma control compared with asthmatics who failed to exercise.  

The authors of the study noted other potential benefits of exercising.2

  • Improved lung function.
  • Reduced breathlessness
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced airway inflammation

These benefits might explain why exercise is good for asthma. But, further testing will be needed to prove these.

In 1984, my doctor recommended I skip gym class. This was because my asthma was really bad that year. In 1985, my doctor shipped me off to an asthma hospital in Denver. They had me in bed for a week while they helped me obtain good asthma control. Within 2 weeks of my admission, they had me in the gym with other kids my age.

They started me out slow. At first, I just walked. But, within a few weeks, they had me running. They also had me in the pool. They said that swimming was the best exercise for asthmatics. Within weeks I was swimming laps.

I have pretty much stayed physically active ever since.

The key here is that exercise must be done in conjunction with the appropriate use of asthma controller medicines. In other words, exercise must be used as an adjunct to current therapy, not a replacement.

Still, this study seems to prove what doctors have been saying all along: that exercise improves asthma control. 

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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