Regular exercise improves asthma control among adults – one should not avoid exercise that provokes breathlessness

Researchers at CERH found that regular exercise improves asthma control and reduces breathlessness, as well as need for short-acting bronchodilating asthma medication.

Center for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research at the University of Oulu conducted a randomized controlled trial on regular exercise and asthma control (REACT) among adults. They found that regular exercise improves asthma control and reduces breathlessness as well as need for short-acting bronchodilating asthma medication.

The groups of the study population that experienced the best positive effect of regular exercise on asthma control were the young, women, and non-smokers. In addition to these population groups, the positive effect was more pronounced among those asthmatics who were normal weight and those who exercised the least prior to the exercise intervention.

”In earlier times, subjects who had asthma were advised to avoid exercise, because of the fear that it may provoke respiratory symptoms and even bronchoconstriction”, Research Professor of Respiratory Medicine Maritta Jaakkola tells. She is the Principal Investigator of the trial.

”According to a systematic review and meta-analysis that we published earlier, regular exercise improves oxygen consumption (i.e. physical fitness) of subjects with asthma, but we did not find any earlier studies on potential effects that regular exercise may have on asthma control”, she continues.

Professor of Public Health Jouni Jaakkola says that the findings of this trial are important from the perspectives of both public health and economics. Asthma is among the most frequent chronic diseases in Finland. Altogether about 9 percent of the working-aged adults have it and it causes over 200 million euros as direct costs related to its care.

”In addition, having bronchial asthma reduces productivity, as it causes sick leaves and work disability, and it increases the likelihood of disability pension.”

In the trial researchers randomized 131 subjects, who had mild or moderate asthma, into the exercise intervention group or the control group. Altogether 105 subjects completed the trial and 89 were included in the main analyses. The intervention group received an individually-tailored exercise program that lasted for 24 weeks and included aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes three times per week, as well as muscle training and stretching twice a week. In the intervention group, 62 percent experienced an improvement in their asthma control, while in the control group, only 39% experienced such improvement.

Thus, the effect of exercise intervention on improving the asthma control was 23% (95% confidence interval 2.7% – 43.8%, P=0.0320), so it was significant. In addition, exercise intervention reduced experience of breathlessness as well as need for short-acting bronchodilating medication.

The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Jaakkola JJK, Aalto SAM, Hernberg S, Kiihamäki SP, Jaakkola MS. Regular exercise improves asthma control in adults: A randomized controlled trial. Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 19;9(1):12088. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-48484-8.

Further information:
Professor Jouni Jaakkola and professor Maritta Jaakkola,

Last updated: 21.8.2019