Asthma is a chronic condition that leads to spasm, swelling, and extra production of mucus in the airways which makes it difficult to breathe. Medications can help open airways but lifestyle habits and your environment also play an important role in managing the condition. Knowing and avoiding environmental triggers is an important step to preventing episodes. Physical conditioning may improve the function of your lungs and the way your body uses oxygen, which may decrease stress on your airways. Certain activities like yoga not only work on conditioning but also use breathing techniques which may be helpful for managing asthma flare ups along with medication.
Researchers wanted to investigate what impact yoga may have in participants with asthma. The study, published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that yoga was associated with improvements in quality of life and reduced symptoms in people with asthma.
The systematic review of 15 randomized controlled trials included 1048 male and female participants with mild to moderate asthma. The participants were randomized to yoga or sham intervention, usual care, or breathing exercises for a period of 2 to 54 months. A number of different asthma factors were studied. Some measured changes in quality of life through questionnaires before and after the trial. Other trials tracked changes in lung function, asthma symptoms, and asthma medication use.
Participants randomized to the yoga intervention reported:
Information on unwanted side effects was limited.
A systematic review combines large numbers of smaller trials to create a larger pool of participants. The larger the pool of participants the more reliable the outcomes are. However, the included trials were not similar enough to combine with accuracy. For example, the treatment durations lasted as short as 2 weeks, which may not be enough time to see a benefit, and as long as 54 months. This wide variation in treatment duration makes it hard to compare results. Past studies have also shown that yoga may improve asthma outcomes, so yoga is still a good option to consider in an overall asthma management plan.
There are many types of yoga, many of which you can do at home. Yoga is not only a way to stay physically active, its breathing techniques and stress relieving qualities make it a good choice to improve your overall health. Try various types of yoga with different yoga instructors to find the one that best meets your needs. Also, you will need to practice yoga consistently for a period of time in order to determine if it is a helpful addition to your asthma management plan. If you are struggling with asthma, talk to your doctor about your overall asthma management plan.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Asthma alternative treatments. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 20, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2016.
Yang ZY, Zhong HB, et al. Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Apr 27;4:CD010346.
Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD