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How sleep and exercise can lower your risks of asthma

Two important new studies find a clear link between sleep, exercise and their effects on asthma. Lounge speaks to doctors to find out what you should be doing

Find out the relation between sleep, exercise and asthma.
Find out the relation between sleep, exercise and asthma. (Unsplash/bruce mars)

Sleep plays a big role in our overall health and fitness. Whether it’s weight, body shape, overall fitness, mental health or key health indicators, any of these goals will be a lot harder to achieve without adequate sleep. With fresh research, we’re coming across even more links between sleep and health. A new Global Asthma Report, for instance, states that the disease affects about 300 million people around the world. The study was published last month in the British Medical Journal’s Open Respiratory Research, and found that those with poor sleep patterns have “an additive higher asthma risk.” 

The study included more than 450,000 participants, aged 38-73 years, and they were tracked for a decade. Over this period, 17,386 participants were diagnosed with asthma. The researchers found that poor sleep and high genetic susceptibility combined to create a a two-fold higher risk of asthma while, “a healthy sleep pattern was associated with a lower risk of asthma”.

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The researchers also found that 19% of asthma cases could be prevented with an improvement in sleep hygiene. Another finding was that good sleeping habits could help prevent asthma despite one’s genetic susceptibility to the condition. This is a significant finding for India, where long hours of work and commute have led to an increase in sleep deficit and sleeping disorders.   

Another new research paper found that years of breathing traffic pollution increases death rates. For this study, called Long-Term Exposure To Traffic-Related Air Pollution And Non-Accidental Mortality: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis, researchers analysed 36 studies conducted at various locations in the world between 1980 and 2019. These included countries like Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe, and the individual studies reported on the health effects of traffic-related air pollution. The meta research found high death rates when people were exposed to long-term traffic-related air pollution. Reducing air pollution, the meta study concludes, will lead to public health gains.

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Both these studies are significant in the Indian context. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms and that. As it is, nearly 6-7 Indian cities regularly feature among the 10 most polluted cities in the world pretty much every year. And while doctors maintain that asthma is a condition that can be managed, they also warn that asthmatic people need to take extra care when pollution is high. 

“If you have a lung condition, high pollution levels can aggravate symptoms such as an asthma attack or a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease flare-up. When pollution levels are high, those with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more frequently than usual. It’s important to know how to take precautions,” says Dr. Mrinal Sircar, director and head of the department of pulmonology and critical care medicine at Fortis Hospital in Noida.

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Both doctors and fitness experts maintain that those who suffer from asthma can lead normal active lives filled with sports and exercise, as long as their asthma is well under control and lung function tests are normal. In fact, many top athletes suffer from asthma but still perform very well at the highest levels of professional sports. They also point out the importance of sleep in order to lead a healthy and happy life. Now, with the new evidence that points to both sleep and pollution impacting asthma and, consequently, death rates, India could be staring at a significant health problem. 

While mitigating pollution is something that mainly needs to be dealt with at the policy level, sleep hygiene is the one thing that every individual can address on their own accord. To start with, you should start thinking about, and preparing for sleep, just as you do with other aspects of your lives such as work, meetings, vacations and exercise. 

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In fact, exercise can play an important role in ensuring proper sleep and thus reducing the risk from asthma. While getting in some daily exercise leaves your body tired and helps you fall asleep, a sustained exercise programme plays a big role in reducing the number of asthma attacks. 

“To sleep better, ensure you workout so that the body is tired out,” says Dr. Ashish Kumar Prakash, consultant for respiratory and sleep medicine at Medanta Hospital in Gurugram. Other factors that can help you sleep better, says Prakash, are sticking to a sleep structure, limiting your daytime naps, and paying attention to what you drink and eat just before you sleep. “Most of all, create a restful and comfortable environment for yourself in which you can sleep peacefully – keep it cool, dark and quiet,” he says.  

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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