Improving asthma through exercise interventions

JohnU Professor John Upham

University of Queensland

John Upham is a respiratory physician and clinician scientist who thinks a lot about immune dysfunction in lung diseases.

After clinical training in Brisbane, John completed a PhD with the University of Western Australia followed by a post-doc fellowship at McMaster University in Canada. He returned to Brisbane in 2007 and holds appointments with Princess Alexandra Hospital and the University of Queensland. He was appointed Chair of Metro South Research in 2019.

His research interests include understanding the immune system in asthma, why people with chronic lung diseases are prone to virus infections, and developing targeted therapies for severe asthma.

Project status: Research ongoing

Grant Type: Project Grant


Why was funding this research important?

People with asthma often avoid exercise because it may induce wheezing and breathlessness; however research suggests that exercise actually improves asthma by reducing inflammation in the airways. In health people, while moderate-intensity exercise is known to be anti-inflammatory, a number of studies suggest that vigorous exercise may in fact worsen inflammation. Despite asthma being a chronic inflammatory disease, surprisingly the effects of exercise intensity on airway inflammation have not been investigated in this population.

This vital research hopes to provide the knowledge needed for meaningful exercise guidelines to be developed, that include the ideal intensity of exercise to improve asthma.

“While medication and routine healthcare is an important part of asthma management, findings from this research will open up new opportunities for lifestyle changes that people with asthma can make themselves. We hope it will help people with asthma understand the importance of exercise as a part of their asthma management, and practical advice about the right amount of exercise.” – Professor John Upham

What are the researchers doing?

The first phase of this research examined how both vigorous-intensity and moderate intensity exercise impact the airways of adults with asthma, following a once-off exercise session. The researchers measured the levels of inflammation in the participant’s lungs and bloodstream before and after exercise to establish the mechanisms driving the effects of exercise in those with asthma, while also establishing whether the effects of exercise differ by the intensity of the exercise performed. Initial results suggest that moderate intensity exercise has anti-inflammatory benefits four hours after exercise, but the same results were not observed after vigorous intensity exercise.

The second phase will examine how three months of exercise training influences asthma symptoms and quality of life in adults with asthma. Participants will complete three months of exercise training, at either a moderate or vigorous intensity. Participant’s asthma will be monitored before and after the exercise program, and the levels of inflammation in the lungs and blood will also be examined to better understand the mechanisms driving the changes. This part of the project is still ongoing.

“Funding from Asthma Australia enabled us to get started on the project investigating exercise and inflammation in people with asthma. It also has a positive impact on up and coming researchers, supporting a member of our research team, Hayley Scott, to start her research career. Asthma Australia funding is helping build the next generation of asthma researchers.”  – Professor John Upham