Lifestyle Modification For Asthma

  • Sara moheb FoadBPharm, Clinical Pharmacy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Cairo University, Egypt
  • Stephanie LeadbitterMSc Cancer Biology & Radiotherapy Physics, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science, University of Manchester, UK

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Overview

Asthma or bronchial asthma is a common and chronic disease that affects people of all ages. It affects the airways in your lungs, making them inflamed, narrow and with an increase in mucus production that results in making it hard to move air easily in and out. This leads to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing (especially at night and early morning), and chest tightness. The symptoms can worsen with triggers like dust, pollen, exercise, viral infection, and exposure to cold air. It is treated with different types of medication and lifestyle modification for a successful management plan.1

Importance of lifestyle modifications in managing asthma

Asthma is a serious condition that affects daily activities. Therefore, it requires you to take care of every step in the management plan to relieve asthma symptoms and prevent them from getting worse. Studies on the impact of lifestyle modifications on asthma were promising, as they found that increasing physical activity, following relaxation techniques like yoga and massage, and improving nutrition by including fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain have positive effects on relieving symptoms with and without using asthma medications. So we encourage you to commit to doing all you can to change your lifestyle as this approach has many advantages: it is less expensive, more accessible, has minimal side effects compared to medication, and adherence to it is better and easier than medications.2

Dietary modifications 

Role of a balanced diet in asthma management

There is no cure for asthma, but these lifestyle modifications can help control symptoms, decrease them or prevent them from worsening, improving quality of life. Obesity is one of the notable causes of worsening asthma symptoms, poor asthma control, and decreased quality of life, so it is one of the areas hypothesized for the management of asthma. It is important to eat a healthy diet and include important elements like vitamin C, omega 3 and fruits and vegetables in your meals to improve your health.2

Types of diet for asthma management

Western-style eating patterns

This diet is rich in saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids and is associated with inflammatory mechanisms.

Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)

This diet is rich in fruits, dietary fibers, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids and is associated with anti-inflammatory pathways. 

As asthma is an inflammatory condition, the Western diet will make symptoms worse and cause a high rate of morbidity. Therefore, asthmatic patients will get benefits from using the DASH diet as it has anti-inflammatory effects.2

Foods suggested to include in your meals

Anti-inflammatory foods

Studies have proven that including fruits and vegetables in your meals if you are asthmatic has anti-inflammatory effects on lung airways, helping to relieve airway inflammation and making asthma symptoms better.2

Foods rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants and vitamin C have proven advantages for asthmatic patients. Studies investigating the effects of antioxidants in the meals of persons with asthma  have found that antioxidants and vitamin C decrease airway inflammation, improve lung function, and control asthma symptoms.2  

Omega-3 fatty acid sources

Studies done on the beneficial effect of omega 3 fatty acids in asthmatic patients suggest that increasing the intake of fish containing omega 3 fatty acids improves inflammation, increasing control of asthma symptoms and helping to relieve them.2

Sodium

Studies recommend avoiding food rich in sodium like processed foods or adding salt to food as that may be helpful in asthma symptoms. However, this still needs more research.2

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements have been found to improve asthma. Studies have proven that vitamin D supplements decrease exacerbation, improve lung function, and decrease inflammation.2

Foods to avoid

Some types of food make asthma symptoms worse and increase exacerbation and inflammation. Therefore, asthmatic patients should avoid foods like saturated fatty acids and food that contain omega-6 as these make symptoms worse.2

Physical activity

Asthma patients sometimes refrain from performing physical activity due to developing an  acute narrowing of airways called Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) which increases asthma symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. But that does not mean physical activity is forbidden for asthma patients. Actually, studies found that a little exercise is important for improving asthma symptoms and so recommends performing physical activity for 20–60 seconds for 3–5 days per week.2 

The connection between Stress and asthma symptoms

Researchers studied the effect of stress on the exacerbation of asthma symptoms and found that stress on its own has no effect, but when stress is found alongside triggers like allergens, pollen, dust, or any other triggers for asthma symptoms, symptoms get worse. Therefore, asthma patients can potentially overcome this by using a stress-relief relaxation technique, meditation like yoga, or massage.3

Meditation and breathing exercises to relieve stress 

Using these techniques helps in relaxation from anxiety and stress. Studies made on this approach are not enough to confirm their use with asthma patients.  More research is needed, especially for using them with children, although it is still helpful to use breathing exercises, meditation like yoga, and massage for  improving quality of life, lung function and overall psychological health.2   

Environmental modifications

Identifying and minimizing exposure to triggers

It is important to identify triggers of asthma symptoms as when patients are exposed to them, it makes asthma symptoms get worse and  can lead to more hospitalization and emergency visits. So when we identify them, we can minimize exposure to them. Triggers include:4

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Pets
  • Cleaning and disinfected products
  • Allergens
  • Infections like flu and cold
  • Pollen

Creating an asthma-friendly living environment

Asthma patients can overcome their triggers by using air purifiers which purify indoor air from pollutants and ensuring proper air ventilation by opening doors and windows to renew the air inside the house regularly.  Limit exposure to smoke indoors or in closed places and try to avoid any trigger you know can worsen your symptoms.4

Summary

It is important to know that asthma is not always hard to cope with if you can take your medication regularly and try to make lifestyle modifications which will help your asthma symptoms and be beneficial to your body and health overall. Don’t forget to change your diet to a healthy one rich in fruits and vegetables, especially those with anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant effects, and rich with dietary fibers. Additionally, include vitamins C and D in your meals, decrease salt in food, and perform regular physical activity for 20–60 minutes every 3–5 days per week. Don’t forget to learn relaxation techniques to get rid of stress and anxiety, do yoga, have massages to relieve your body from tension, and all that will help you to improve lung function and help better control of asthma symptoms.   

FAQs

What lifestyle modifications can parents make to help reduce episodes of asthma for their child?

Asthma in a child can be serious and difficult to deal with, but you can make lifestyle modifications and that will help your child. Encourage a healthy diet, and practice some exercises like swimming, as it has been found swimming increases cardiopulmonary fitness and lung function, improving asthma symptoms.5

What are some self-management strategies for managing asthma?

Self-management strategies are things you can do for yourself to keep asthma symptoms under control and decrease emergency visits. These are seven important steps for asthma self-management:6

  • understanding asthma and breathing.
  • be aware of your asthma symptoms and keep your eyes on them.
  • keep in touch with healthcare providers.
  • know your asthma medicines and learn how to use them correctly.
  • change your lifestyle to avoid asthma problems and exacerbations.
  • follow good health habits like stopping smoking, relieving stress, and exercising regularly to stay healthy.
  • learn how to deal with your symptoms by following your asthma action plan.

What is the best exercise to increase lung capacity?

Asthma patients need to include routine exercise every day, as aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activity can improve lung function and make symptoms better. Walking, running, and jumping rope are examples of aerobic exercises that make heart and lung functions better. Weight-lifting or Pilates builds core strength, an example of muscle strengthening activity, which helps improve chest muscles and the diaphragm for better breathing.7

References

  1. Asthma [Internet]. World Health Organization; [cited 2024 Mar 20]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asthma 
  2. Stoodley I, Williams L, Thompson C, Scott H, Wood L. Evidence for lifestyle interventions in asthma. Breathe. 2019 Jun;15(2). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876140/
  3. Chen E, Miller GE. Stress and inflammation in exacerbations of asthma. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2007 Nov;21(8):993–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077080/
  4. Common asthma triggers [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022 [cited 2024 Mar 20]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/triggers.html 
  5. Lifestyle changes that can help minimize asthma attacks [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 20]. Available from: https://www.firstpediatriccare.com/blog/lifestyle-changes-that-can-help-minimize-asthma-attacks 
  6. Pinnock H. Supported self-management for asthma. Breathe. 2015 Jun;11(2):98–109. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487370/
  7. Association AL. Exercise and lung health [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 20]. Available from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sara Moheb Foad

BPharm, Clinical Pharmacy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Cairo University, Egypt

Sara graduated from the faculty of pharmacy at Cairo University and then earned a pharmacovigilance diploma after that found my passion in writing and translation, especially in the medical field so started taking courses in both of them. After that, I gained several years of experience in medical writing in both English and Arabic language.

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