Asthma symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing can be reduced with improved diet and increased physical activity, according to researchers.
The findings, which apply to non-obese patients, were presented earlier this week at the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in Milan, Italy.
”People with asthma sometimes find exercise challenging”
Louise Lindhardt Toennesen
The researchers noted that the majority of patients relied on daily medicine to control symptoms and many were wary of exercise, fearing that it could induce symptoms.
However, their findings suggest that taking exercise, combined with a healthy diet, could help patients gain better control of symptoms such as wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath.
The Danish researchers randomly assigned 149 patients to one of four groups, with 125 remaining in the study for the full eight weeks.
One group was asked to follow a diet that was high in protein and with a low glycaemic index. They were also asked to eat at least six portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
Another group took part in exercise classes three times a week at hospital. Classes included bursts of high intensity activity designed to raise the heartrate, interspersed with more gentle activity.
A third group took part in the exercise classes and followed the diet, while the remaining group did neither and acted as a control.
Researchers questioned patients about their symptoms and about their quality of life, as well as testing their fitness, and the strength and output of their lungs.
They found that the high intensity training was safe for patients. Although they did not find definite improvement in lung function, they said the combination of diet and exercise improved both symptom control and patients’ quality of life, as well as improving their level of fitness.
On average, those who took part in the exercise and followed the diet rated their asthma symptom score 50% better than the control group.
Those patients who only followed either the exercise or the diet programme, on average, rated their asthma symptom score 30% better than the controls, but it did not reach statistical significance.
The study was presented at the conference by Dr Louise Lindhardt Toennesen, from Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen.
“There is increasing evidence that asthma patients who are obese can benefit from a better diet and increased exercise,” she said. “We wanted to see if non-obese patients with asthma could also benefit.”
Dr Toennesen noted that asthma sometimes found exercise “challenging”, which could lead to an overall deterioration in their fitness.
“Our study suggests that non-obese asthma patients can safely take part in well-planned, high-intensity exercise,” she said. “It also shows that exercise combined with a healthy diet can help patients control their asthma symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.
“These are important findings, since we know that not all patients have good control over their symptoms and consequently can have a lower quality of life,” said Dr Toennesen.
“Our research suggests that people with asthma should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet and to take part in physical activity,” she added.
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The researchers said they now hoped to discover which specific diet and activities had the biggest impact, and, ultimately, if lifestyle changes could replace asthma prevention medicine.
Dr Samantha Walker, director of policy and research at Asthma UK, said there was “no reason” why patients with the condition should not be able to take part in physical activities.
“In fact, as this study suggests, if you have asthma a healthy lifestyle can improve your quality of life and your asthma control,” she noted.
She added that the “central principles” of a healthy lifestyle – exercising regularly, keeping your weight healthy and stopping smoking – could all benefit asthma as well as wider health.