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Montreal, October 7, 2015 — via EurekaAlert!

Millions of people suffer from asthma. Many report having poor control of their symptoms. Fortunately, new research shows there is a simple antidote: 30 minutes of exercise a day, year-round.

In a study recently published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, experts from Concordia University, the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal and several other institutions* analyzed the exercise habits of 643 participants who had been diagnosed with asthma.

Results were overwhelmingly clear: those who engaged in optimal levels of physical activity on a regular basis were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to have good control of their symptoms, compared with those who did no exercise.

The workout doesn’t have to be strenuous. « We’re not talking about running marathons here, » says Simon Bacon, the study’s lead author and a professor in the Department of Exercise Science at Concordia. « Just 30 minutes a day of walking, riding a bike, doing yoga — anything active, really — can result in significant reduction of asthma symptoms. »

Traditionally, people with the condition have been discouraged from exercising because of a belief that it triggers shortness of breath and attacks. Bacon explains that simple precautionary measures can be taken to avoid the discomforts that can be caused by physical activity.

« The issue of exercise-induced bronchospasm is real — but if you use your releaver medication, blue puffer, before you exercise, and then take the time to cool down afterwards, you should be okay, » he says. « Even if you have asthma, there’s no good reason not to get out there and exercise. »

That’s a message Bacon hopes resonates. Within his sample group of 643 individuals, a whopping 245 reported doing no physical activity. Only 100 said they engaged in the optimal 30 minutes a day.

« Those numbers reflect the population in general, » says Bacon, who is also director of the Centre de réadaptation Jean-Jacques-Gauthier at Hopital du Sacré-Coeur. Forty per cent of people don’t exercise at all, he says.

« We need to keep in mind that doing something is better than nothing, and doing more is better than less. Even the smallest amount of activity is beneficial. »

It’s something to keep in mind during winter months, when fitness levels tend to drop along with the temperature, and cold air provides another trigger for asthma symptoms.

« Our study shows that those who were able to engage in physical activity on a regular basis year-round benefit most, » says Bacon. If necessary, he suggests finding an indoor place to move, whether it’s the gym, a staircase or a shopping mall.

« It’s all about being creative and finding environments where the cold doesn’t become an issue. »

Could a prescription for exercise be the result of this study Bacon is hopeful. « It would be great to see physicians recommending physical activity to patients with asthma, alongside traditional pharmacological treatments, » he says.

Partners in research: Funding support for this study was provided by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Fonds de recherche du Quebec – Sante, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Michel Auger Foundation of Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal.