A couple of months ago, I asked very distinguished panel of CF care providers whether they thought, 1) that the scientific literature was compelling enough to persuade them that exercise should be a routine part of CF care, and 2) do they promote exercise in their clinics?

I was a bit surprised to hear that most were not convinced by the evidence to date, but happy to hear that all thought that exercise was “a good idea.” Not many had formal exercise programs or promoted it vigorously (other than Dr. Strandvik from Sweden). But they all agreed that it was good to move. Hard to disagree with that.

Now, I understand the caution engendered by this lack of conviction. After all, I was a scientist once. It takes multiple, repeated long-term studies that are designed with a matched control group, huge numbers of patients that are randomized as to who gets the intervention and who are the controls, and double blinded (neither the patient nor the doctor knows who is getting the “intervention,” to convince this crowd. But a study looking at exercise and CF can’t be huge (think about it…how many of us are there?), can’t be “blinded” for obvious reasons, and are extremely hard to create and fund for “long term studies.” The longest so far is a 3-year study from Toronto (oh yeah…that’s the one that showed pretty convincingly that regular aerobic exercise DELAYED decrease in pulmonary function in CF; Schneiderman et al, 2000). Most of the reported studies are 3 to 6 months in duration.. It’s hard to show much after only 3 months, and yet, it’s been done. Just not enough for this crowd.

So, instead of looking for irrefutable evidence that exercise improves lung function in CF, or that it increases mucus clearance, or that it prolongs life (all great questions that deserve more study), let’s ask a basic question that I believe HAS been answered. Does regular exercise improve the quality of life in someone with cystic fibrosis?

The answer is a resounding YES. Several well-designed studies have shown that increasing exercise capacity and tolerance in those with CF improved measures of QOL (quality of life) or QWB (quality of well-being). (Kaplan et al 1989, deJong et al 1997, Klijn et al 2004, Enright et al 2004). These studies include both children and adults.

To me, quality of life is worth improving. Yes, it is great to fund study after study looking for small molecules which correct the basic defect, or to find better antibiotics, or better ways of combating over-exuberant inflammation, or ways to thin mucus and clear it more effectively. But while all of these (and more) are in the pipeline, what about those of us in the trenches? Some of us may not be able to wait. If there are ways to improve our lives, our self-image, our body-image, our self-esteem and self-efficacy RIGHT NOW, shouldn’t these ways be encouraged? Shouldn’t studies about this be funded? Shouldn’t this very simple (I said simple, not easy) and inexpensive intervention be pushed HARD in our clinics?

I think so, and I’d like to hear what you think. Please leave a comment.