Asthma is a common condition among children and adolescents causing intermittent wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Concerns that physical exercise, such as swimming, can worsen asthma may reduce participation, and result in reduced physical fitness. This review aimed to determine the effectiveness and safety of swimming training in children and adolescents with asthma who are aged 18 years and under.
We reviewed a total of eight studies involving 262 participants between the ages of five and 18 years with well-controlled asthma. They underwent swimming training varying from 30 to 90 minutes two to three times a week over six to 12 weeks in seven studies, and in one study training lasted 30 minutes six times per week.
This review found that for swimming training compared to control (either usual care or another physical activity), there were improvements in resting lung function tests, but no effects were found on quality of life, control of asthma symptoms or asthma exacerbations. Physical fitness increased with swimming training compared with usual care. There were few reported adverse asthmatic events in swimming training participants during the programmes. The relatively small number of studies and participants limits this review’s ability to measure some outcomes that are of interest, particularly the impact on quality of life and asthma exacerbations.
In summary, swimming training is well-tolerated in children and adolescents with stable asthma, and increases physical fitness and lung function. However, whether swimming is better and/or safer than other forms of physical activity cannot be determined from this review. Further studies with longer follow-up periods may help us understand any long-term benefits of swimming.