Background: Regular physical activity has long been regarded as an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is one of the major problems interfering with the performance of exercise. A warm-up exercise programme has been cited as a non-pharmacologic means of reducing EIA, but its effect has not been fully elucidated.
Objective: The aims of this study were to determine the prevalence of unrecognized EIA in Pretoria primary school children, determine the effect of a warm-up exercise programme on EIA and to establish the relationship between history of allergy, family history of asthma and EIA.
Methods: A random sample of 640 school children was selected. The study was divided into three phases. In phase one, a descriptive cross-sectional study was done using the standardized European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) questionnaire. In phase two, non-asthmatic participants that returned a completed questionnaire were included in the field study. Pre-test and post-test experimental designs were used, where peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) was measured at baseline and within ten minutes after exercise. A total of 340 subjects completed the Free Running Asthma Screening Test (FRAST); EIA was defined as a decrease in baseline PEFR ≥ 10% after exercise and 75 children (22%) had EIA. In phase three, 29 of the 75 subjects participated in the warm-up programme which was performed in the laboratory and subjects acted as their own controls. Predefined protocols for the study were followed.
Results: Seventy-five (22%) of the 340 participants had EIA. The mean age, height and weight were 10.51 years, 139.26 cm and 33.45 kg, respectively. Exercise-induced asthma symptoms were cough (25%), chest pain (16%), wheeze (12%) and chest tightness (12%). The history of allergy was 75%, family history of allergy 40% and positive history of allergy when near animals, feathers or in dusty areas 38%. Wheezing during or after exercise, wheezing when near animals, feathers or in dusty areas and chest pain was significant (p < 0.05). The mean PEFR after exercise without warm-up was 4.43 L/min. The mean PEFR after exercise (warm-up) was 4.98. The mean percentage change in PEFR between exercise without warm-up and exercise with warm-up was 14.83%. The paired t-test showed a significant difference between PEFR with warm-up and PEFR without warm-up (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: There was a high prevalence of EIA among study participants. Exercise-induced asthma symptoms were significant for wheezing and chest pain. Exercise after warm-up was significant in reducing EIA. This study reports the effect of warm-up exercise on EIA and highlighted the need to screen school children for EIA.