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Asthmatic kids face obstacles to getting fit

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children with asthma face a number of barriers to participation in physical activity, from family beliefs to school disorganization to their own misperceptions about their symptoms, the authors of a new research review say.

Students exercise during a ballet class at the Vietnam Dancing School in Hanoi, August 30, 2007. Children with asthma face a number of barriers to participation in physical activity, from family beliefs to school disorganization to their own misperceptions about their symptoms, the authors of a new research review say. REUTERS/Kham

But given the multiple benefits of exercise, Dr. Brian Williams of the University of Dundee in Scotland and colleagues conclude, physical activity is essential to kids with asthma, and efforts must be made to remove these barriers.

Research has shown that exercise can boost aerobic fitness in asthmatic children, and may also have psychological benefits as well, they report in the journal BMC Family Practice. “The overwhelming majority of studies show that people with asthma can exercise safely if medicated appropriately and can significantly improve their cardiovascular fitness and quality of life by doing so,” they add.

To investigate the level physical activity among children with asthma, Williams and his team undertook a review of medical literature, including 61 studies in their analysis.

Several studies showed that children and young people with asthma do tend to be less active than their peers without the disease. One study even found that pre-schoolers with wheezing were less active than their classmates without asthma.

The researchers also found that many young people with asthma didn’t think they were able to fully participate in sports and physical activities.

Parents’ beliefs were key in helping their children to manage their asthma effectively and to be physically active, but parents could also hinder the effective management of their children’s disease. “Many unnecessarily restricted their child’s physical activity because of lack of information or misinterpretation of advice given,” they add.

Teachers could also be part of the problem, largely because they frequently lack information on how to manage an asthma attack and thus they are overly cautious about activities children with asthma can pursue.

Finally, the researchers add, children may sometimes mistake breathlessness during exercise with an asthma attack.

Steps that can be taken to help asthmatic kids to become more active include helping children with asthma and their families to manage the condition more effectively; providing accurate information to parents, teachers and school officials; and helping children with asthma feel more able to cope with their condition.

Doctors also must work with their young asthma patients to help them understand which symptoms indicate a serious problem and which may simply be exercise related.

They conclude: “Exercise-induced asthma should be regarded as a marker of poor control and a need to increase fitness rather (than) as an excuse for inactivity.”

SOURCE: BMC Family Practice, online June 30, 2008.

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