By John Salak –
Asthma is scary and growing more common than many realize. It is also responsible for a frightening number of deaths in the U.S. and worldwide. Rising levels of traffic-related air pollution alone may be responsible for two million new cases of pediatric asthma worldwide every year, according to researchers at The George Washington University.
Admittedly, not all asthma patients suffer to the same degree and it’s even unclear why some people get asthma and others don’t. The renowned Mayo Clinic chalks this mystery up to a number of possible causes including genetic considerations and environmental factors such as the prevalence of airborne allergens. Regardless of the causes and triggers, asthma is a surprisingly common condition that can cause frightening shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness, coughing or wheezing and trouble sleeping.
In raw numbers, about 25 million people suffer from asthma in the U.S., which comes out to 1 in 13 adults, including 8 percent of those over 18 years old and 7 percent of all children, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports. The foundation notes that there is no cure for the disease, which kills about 10 Americans every day.
Anything that constricts a breathing passing is serious business, even in its mildest forms. It can be a disabling disease that can affect a person’s quality of life and limit daily activities, specifically if physical activity is involved. While there is no cure, treatments make living with asthma easier for many. Inhalers are often involved, while the treatment can include quick-relief medicines, controlled medicines that deal with deeper airway conditions and biologics that help prevent cells in the airway from swelling.
Now, in a somewhat ironic twist, Britain’s University of East Anglia reports physical activity can not only improve the quality of life for asthma patients, but it can also reduce their symptoms as well. The university’s researchers looked into the specific impact of aerobics and strength or resistance training on asthma patients and found they benefitted. The obvious drawback was getting individuals with potential breathing problems started on these treatments and in some cases simply getting them to in-person programs.
“Being physically active is widely recommended for people with asthma. Doing more than 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity has extensive benefits including improved lung function and asthma control,” explained Prof Andrew Wilson of the university’s medical school. “Not only is it more challenging for individuals to be aerobic or strength training before a breathing issue, but many chronic asthma sufferers also become increasingly sedentary with age, which leads to a general deterioration in their physical condition.”
Working in groups and setting activity goals may be one of the most effective ways to overcome these hurdles. “We found that interventions that promote physical activity (like group workouts) had significant benefits in terms of increasing physical activity, decreasing time spent sedentary, improving quality of life, and decreasing asthma symptoms,” added researcher Leanne Tyson. “This is really important because helping patients make significant behavior changes could really improve their outcomes in the long term.”
The social distancing that evolved with the advent of the Covid pandemic certainly admittedly puts a crimp in group intervention sessions, which is why promoting physical engagement via digital classes may be an effective near-term alternative.