Diet and Exercise Improve Asthma Symptoms in Non-Obese Patients

November 13, 2017

Even asthma patients without extra body weight may see as much as a 50% reduction in asthma symptom scores. It's really that simple. 

Engaging in regular exercise combined with eating a healthy diet could help non-obese asthma patients gain better control of their symptoms, including wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath, according to a new study.
There is increasing evidence that asthma patients who are obese can benefit from a better diet and increased exercise. “We wanted to see if non-obese patients with asthma could also benefit,” said lead author Louise Toennesen, MD, PhD, of Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The researchers presented their results at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2017 in Milan, Italy (Abstract no: OA4678).

Toennesen and her colleagues randomly assigned 149 asthma patients to one of four groups in this eight-week trial. One group followed a high-protein, low-glycemic index diet. They ate at least six portions of fruit and vegetables per day. A second group participated in exercise classes three times a week at the hospital that interspersed bursts of high-intensity activity with more gentle activity. A third group took part in the exercise classes and followed the diet. The fourth (control) group did neither.

Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured asthma control, asthma-related quality of life, forced expiratory volume in one second, and fractional exhaled nitric oxide levels. At the end of eight weeks, 125 people remained in the study.

On average, those in the exercise and diet group rated their asthma symptom score 50% better compared to the control group. Those who followed either the exercise program or the diet rated their asthma symptom score 30% better compared to the control group, but this difference did not reach statistical significance.

The exercise and diet group did not show definitive improvement in lung function, but symptom control and patients’ quality of life, as well as fitness level, all improved. There were no adverse events, suggesting that high-intensity training is safe for these patients.

“People with asthma sometimes find exercise challenging and this can 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. It also shows that exercise combined with a healthy diet can help patients control their asthma symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life,” said Toennesen.

“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.”

She suggested that asthma patients should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet and to take part in physical activity to control symptoms, no matter whether they are obese or not.

The researchers plan to continue to investigate the effects of diet and exercise on asthma over the long run. They intend to look at which diet and activities have the biggest impact, to find out if some patients can benefit more than others, and if lifestyle changes can replace asthma prevention medicine.