Image Credit: Getty Images/Tom Merton

Exercise and Asthma: Never Feeling Fit Enough

Reading time | 3 mins

Having been diagnosed with asthma when I was about seven, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the ‘sporty’ youngsters in my peer group. While I tried indoor activities like trampolining and dance in order to keep active without triggering my asthma, PE lessons in particular were a real struggle.

I was always at the back in cross country, huffing and puffing my way across the field as I watched everyone else disappear into the distance. Playing in the garden or cycling around the neighbourhood with my two brothers, I was always desperate to keep up.

The benefits of exercise  

It can be hard as a child to deal with the pressure of needing to fit in and wanting to participate in activities with friends, whilst feeling frustrated that your body is holding you back. Even though my asthma was relatively mild and mostly under control, there was always the thought in the back of my mind that for the rest of my life, asthma was going to stop me from properly taking part in sport.

This was also reinforced to a certain extent by the messaging around asthma at the time, which didn’t really showcase the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in reducing the symptoms and effects of asthma.

Nowadays studies have shown that exercise is good for asthma sufferers, and many world-class athletes have asthma including Paula Radcliffe and Laura Kenny. As long as you’ve discussed it with your doctor, you’re managing your asthma well and your symptoms are under control, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy most types of exercise – whether it’s taking the dog for a brisk walk or running a marathon. Giving your lungs a regular workout may even reduce your asthma symptoms by:

  • Improving your lung stamina so you get less breathless
  • Boosting your immune system so you catch less coughs and colds
  • Supporting weight loss which can cut the risk of an asthma attack
  • Releasing endorphins which lifts your mood and reduces

As an adult I am much more active and can really see the impact that increased exercise has had on my asthma. It now rarely affects my day-to-day life and I find myself only reaching for my inhaler in emergencies. However, I definitely still struggle with the feeling of not being fit enough, despite how hard I might train as I try to match the achievements of other people around me.

Wanting to do more

After seeing me take part in various cycling events, my partner, being inspired to join in, bought a bike and started cycling a few years ago. While I do love that we can now ride together, it can be demoralising to see him progress so much faster than I did. He has overtaken me in terms of speed, distance and achievements in next to no time.

Likewise, I have friends who run the same distances and events that I do and appear to do similar training, but can maintain a much faster pace and achieve much better race times than I could ever manage.

I have to accept that not all of this is related to my asthma. Some of it is down to genetics: I’m pretty short, I tend to gain weight easily and have a definite lack of flexibility, and some of it to my own self-imposed limitations. Maybe I believe that I can’t be as fit as them because I have asthma?

What if I actually truly pushed myself, trained at 110% effort and didn’t let my asthma hold me back… Would I be as fit as other people then? Maybe, but ultimately, does that really matter?

The Takeaway

While I will always have that niggling frustration of not being good enough in the back of my head, the reason I go out for a run or a bike ride is because I enjoy keeping active. I love the escape and the headspace that I get when running, and I enjoy exploring new places on two wheels. Trekking the beautiful landscapes in the UK is so rewarding and there’s nothing like the feeling of standing on top of a mountain admiring the view, knowing I climbed all the way to the top!

Exercising with asthma is a challenge and really, I should be proud of the fact that I’m just getting out there. I realise it’s important to cut myself some slack sometimes and focus on what I have managed to do. After all, in the end, it is yourself you should be competing with.

UK/MED/19/0045 March 2019