Diet, Exercise Improves Asthma Symptoms

Exercise and a high-protein, low-glycemic diet could improve asthma symptoms by 50%.

Patients with severe asthma may have limited lung function that can affect work, school, and relationships. While physical activity is recommended for nearly all individuals, patients with asthma may avoid exercise due to fear of symptom exacerbation.

Findings from a study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress suggest that non-obese patients with asthma could alleviate symptoms of the condition through a combination of diet and exercise.

Currently, a majority of patients with asthma rely on daily medication and rescue inhalers to avoid wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

"There is increasing evidence that asthma patients who are obese can benefit from a better diet and increased exercise,” said researcher Louise Lindhardt Toennesen, MD, PhD. “We wanted to see if non-obese patients with asthma could also benefit."

Included in the study were 149 patients who were randomized into 1 of 4 groups:

  • Patients consumed a high-protein, low-glycemic diet and were asked to eat at least 6 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Patients participated in 3 exercise classes per week, which included both high-intensity and lower-intensity exercise.
  • Patients participated in the exercise classes and followed the diet.
  • The control group did not receive either intervention.

The authors inquired about symptoms and quality of life. They also tested fitness levels and lung strength and output.

The authors discovered that high-intensity training was safe for patients with asthma and did not exacerbate symptoms.

"People with asthma sometimes find exercise challenging and this can lead to an overall deterioration in their fitness,” Dr Toennesen said. “Our study suggests that non-obese asthma patients can safely take part in well-planned, high-intensity exercise. It also shows that exercise combined with a healthy diet can help patients control their asthma symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.”

While there were no improvements in lung function, a combination of diet and exercise improved symptoms and quality of life, in addition to improving fitness level, according to the study.

The investigators found that patients who exercised and adhered to the dietary guidelines rated their symptoms 50% better compared with control patients.

Patients who participated in exercise or followed the diet rated symptoms 30% better than control patients, which was not statistically significant, according to the study.

The authors plan to conduct additional studies about the effects of diet and exercise for patients with asthma, including those that have the most impact. They hope to determine whether lifestyle changes would be able to replace medication, according to the study.

“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. We also know that many patients are interested in whether they can improve their asthma control with exercise and a healthy diet,” Dr Toennesen said. "Our research suggests that people with asthma should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet and to take part in physical activity."