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Study supports treating asthma with exercise

FITNESS

Children with the disease could benefit from increased physical activity, but parents often worry about the dangers.

April 26, 2004|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Although they have a particularly pressing need for exercise, many asthmatic children may not be as active as they should be.

A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore found that one in five children with asthma does not get enough physical activity, even though a lack of exercise can raise the risks of developing asthmatic symptoms and even succumbing to a full-blown asthma episode.

Parental misconceptions about exercise seemed to be responsible for much of the problem. Twenty-five percent of parents of children with asthma feared that exercise would make their children sick.

The misconception is understandable, doctors say. After all, excessive activity can trigger coughing, wheezing or even a severe episode in some people with asthma.

The report found that the more severe the asthma, the less likely the children were to exercise.

But physical activity also helps fortify the body's ability to fight asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that is the most common chronic illness of childhood in the nation. Nearly 5 million children younger than 18, or about one in 20 youngsters, have asthma.

"Asthmatic kids should be able to do anything their peers can do," said Dr. Janet Serwint, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Children's Center who helped write the study. "Anything less means they need to strengthen their asthma controls."

These controls -- a combination of medications and environmental changes, including eliminating such household triggers as dander, dust mites and pollens -- should be beefed up, doctors say, before parents forgo the exercise.

The study found that children with asthma were active on average about half an hour less each day than their healthy peers. Further, children with asthma were twice as likely to be active only three days a week or fewer.

Serwint said pediatricians should be doing a better job of informing parents about the importance of exercise for children with asthma.

Though numerous studies have shown exercise can reduce the severity and frequency of episodes, some pediatricians aren't informing their patients, Serwint said.

The study was based on the results of a telephone survey of the parents of 137 children with asthma and 106 healthy children ages 6 to 12. It was published in the April issue of Pediatrics.

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