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Asthmatics benefit from aerobic dance.

Asthmatics benefit from aerobic dance

Just the thought of a thirty-minute aerobic dance routine is enough to leave many asthma patients gasping for breath. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of asthmatics develop bronchospasm -- an involuntary constriction of air passages -- during or following exercise. Airway-opening, "bronchodilating" drugs that can prevent or alleviate attacks are available in easy-to-use, pocket-size inhaler devices. But the fear of bronchospasm leaves most asthmatic patients leading relatively inactive lives.

Now two physicians report that aerobic dance for asthmatics is not only possible, but can improve pulmonary function and quality of life for patients.

"People with asthma lead too sedentary a life," says Stanley I. Wolf of the George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C. "if we can get them to do some regular exercise, there is a definite feeling of well-being and there are physiological changes, including improved muscle stamina." With Kathy L. Lampl of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., Wolf describes in the November ANNALS OF ALLERGY preliminary results of an Aerobics for Asthmatics program they and others initiated two years ago.

Eighteen asthmatics, ranging in age from 17 to 68, participated in the program during the first year. Twice weekly for 45 minutes they engaged in a series of movements, performed to music, designed to strengthen muscles critical to breathing, including the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs. Although lung capacity remained unchanged, the researchers report maximum voluntary ventilation -- a measure of the strength of voluntary chest muscles -- improved significantly. "We have these people using muscles that they haven't used for a while, and in time, even with their limited lung capacity, they can do more," says Wolf, himself an asthmatic and a devoted runner. "After a while they build up their stamina and they find that the need for their inhaler is less."

Moreover, he says, as asthmatics realize they can do more, "There's a tremendous psychological benefit. They are willing to tackle things they hadn't thought about doing before. People are getting back to playing tennis again -- maybe doubles instead of singles, but at least they're willing to try."

The research is consistent with earlier evidence that other forms of activity, most notably swimming, can benefit asthmatics, says William E. Pierson, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's exercise-induced bronchospasm project. This year, 15 of 201 U.S. medalists were asthmatics, he notes.
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Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 3, 1988
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