New European research has found that vigorous activity could improve lung function among smokers, potentially helping to offset some of the damage caused by the habit.
Led by researchers from the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) the study looked at 3,912 adults across 11 countries who were a mix of smokers and non-smokers and aged 27-57 years at the start of the study.
Vigorous physical activity was defined as exercising to the point of out being of breath or sweaty, and participants were considered active if they exercised two times or more a week and with a duration of one hour a week or more.
After following the group for over 10 years, during which they were examined on two occasions, the team found that lung function at the second examination was significantly lower among current smokers than with never-smokers, and the decline of lung function between the first and the second examination was also significantly greater in current smokers than never-smokers.
However, current smokers who were active at the first examination had better lung function at both examinations than the smokers who were non-active.
When looking at all participants, the results also showed that those who were active at the end of the study, including those who changed from inactive to active during the study as well as those who had been consistently active throughout, had significantly higher lung function than those who were consistently inactive.
First author of the study Elaine Fuertes commented that, "This result highlights the importance of physical activity among current smokers specifically, which are a group at higher risk of poor lung function," suggesting that physical activity could have an anti-inflammatory effect on smokers, a group known to be at a higher risk of inflammation.
Regarding those who were consistently active or became active, Fuertes said, "one possible explanation for this result may be that physical activity improves respiratory muscle endurance and strength via a short- or moderate-term effect that requires sustained physical effort to maintain it."
Senior author Judith Garcia-Aymerich added that, "The results of this study strengthen the epidemiological evidence supporting an association between physical activity and respiratory health," adding that this evidence should be used to "inform and support public health messages that promote increasing and maintaining physical activity as a way of preserving respiratory health in middle-age adults."
The findings were published in the journal Thorax.