For years, people with asthma were told to avoid exercise because it could induce or worsen asthma attacks.
But a new study, published in the journal Annals of Medicine, turns that age-old advice on its head.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis comparing the effects that different types of exercise had on lung function in over 2,100 adults with asthma.
A few studies had suggested that — contrary to conventional wisdom — certain types of exercise can actually enhance lung function in adults with asthma.
The new study evaluated five different types of exercise: breathing training, aerobic training, relaxation training, yoga training and breathing combined with aerobic training.
Each type of exercise was judged based on its impact on asthma parameters including FEV1 — forced expiratory volume, which is the amount of air someone can forcibly exhale in one second.
All five types of exercise were somewhat effective at improving lung function, but two types emerged as the clear winners.
“Breathing training combined with aerobic training and yoga training appear to be particularly advantageous, offering potential avenues for effective treatment approaches,” lead author Shuangtao Xing, associate professor at Henan Normal University in Henan, China, said in a news release.
Breathing training can involve different techniques. One, known as diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is a technique that focuses on the diaphragm, a muscle in your stomach that controls respiration.
Other popular breathing techniques used to help people with asthma include nasal breathing and exhaling through pursed lips, according to Healthline.
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What is asthma?
Asthma, also called bronchial asthma, is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and airways, causing breathing difficulty, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
The condition affects more than 25 million people in the US, including more than 5 million children, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways tighten, the lining of the airways becomes swollen and inflamed and heavy mucus can clog airways. A severe asthma attack can result in death.
People with asthma have different triggers for an asthma attack — including mold, pollution and allergies — and some are plagued by a type of asthma called exercise-induced asthma, which is brought on by physical exertion.
Asthma is treated with long-term control medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids, and with quick-relief medications used during an asthma attack. These drugs can be administered through an inhaler or as oral pills.
Most people with the chronic condition also have a long-term asthma control plan, which varies depending on the type of asthma a person has, but usually includes avoiding triggers and using medications based on how their particular asthma symptoms change over time.
Tailored asthma treatment plans
The researchers hope their findings help asthmatics and doctors arrive at a treatment plan that focuses on an individual’s specific type of asthma, because each exercise type helps with particular asthma symptoms.
“[It] is essential to consider individual factors, such as family history, duration of the condition and environmental influences, when designing exercise rehabilitation programs,” said Xing.
“Tailoring interventions to individual physical and mental health conditions, with careful consideration of exercise intensity, frequency and duration, is important for optimizing treatment outcomes,” Xing added.