Asthma is a leading cause of chronic illness in children, impacting heavily on their daily life and participation in physical activity. The purpose of this systematic review was to investigate the evidence for the use of physical therapy to improve pulmonary function and aerobic capacity in children with asthma. Furthermore, the review aims to update previous literature on the effect of exercise on health related quality of life.
A search was conducted for randomized control trials (RCTs) using the electronic databases Medline, Embase, SPORTDiscus, AMED, CINAHL, and The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials. Studies were included if the participants were asthmatic children aged 6–18 years participating in any mode of physical exercise. Studies were reviewed for study quality, participant details, exercise intervention details, and intervention outcomes.
A total of 16 studies and 516 subjects met inclusion criteria for review. Severity of asthma ranged from mild to severe. No improvement in pulmonary function was observed. Physical training led to an increase in aerobic capacity as measured by VO2max (mL/kg/min).
Findings suggest that physical training does not improve pulmonary function in children with asthma, but does increase aerobic capacity. The small number of studies investigating quality of life suggests that physical training does improve health related quality of life; however further well designed randomized control trials are needed to verify these findings.
Crosbie is with the Dept. of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.