The Biggar View — Summer 2010

Summer is here—finally.

For many of us, who are living with CF, summer is the chance to catch our breath after a hard-fought winter. Finally we can pack away the tissues, the woolly scarves and the constant threat of picking up one of the countless winter bugs swirling around us. It can also be the chance to get some exercise. I don’t know about you, but I find exercising in winter to be hard work: it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s wet and I’m tired all the time! But summer brings with it long days, warm weather and some additional motivation to exercise (the sight of one’s legs in shorts…). 

Over the years there has been a lot of debate about the value of exercise for people with CF—Does it increase life expectancy? Improve quality of life? Decrease symptoms or slow deterioration of the lungs? Although questions remain, there is now a reasonably large body of evidence supporting the idea that exercise programs improve fitness, reduce breathlessness, increase sputum clearance and are associated with improved survival.[1] One recent study found that CF adults who exercised for at least 90 minutes per week had a significantly higher quality of life and fewer days in hospital than their less active peers. The differences were particularly stark amongst the women, with the inactive group having three times as many days in hospital as the active women.[2]

This is beginning to sound like a good reason to get off the couch…

And, not surprisingly, this one of the problems: most of us don’t get off the couch enough. Apparently our rate of ongoing exercise in the CF community is consistently low. It’s not too surprising in some ways given how much is required to stay well—enzymes, nebulisers, physio. Where does exercise fit in?

If you’re like certain opportunistic members of our family you might be thinking, ‘Ah ha, I’ll ride my scooter to the park rather than doing my physio! That’s how I’ll fit it in.’ That argument gets attempted repeatedly at our house. But, unfortunately, the research seems to show that exercise—though very important—is not as good as chest physiotherapy for getting the sputum out. Yep, that means doing both. But looking on the bright side, exercise can be fun. In fact, it seems that most people with CF say they would rather exercise than do physio. One study looking at compliance found that people were significantly more likely to faithfully do their exercise regime than their physiotherapy.[3]

So, how do we develop exercise routines that last longer than one weekend? Personally, I don’t know of any easy solutions to overcome the normal inertia that draws us inexorably toward inactivity. But I find that choosing activity we actually enjoy, that’s fun and interesting really helps. For example, what about the true Aussie sport of ocean swimming? It’s fabulous exercise and especially beneficial for those needing some saline inhalation—plus it’s character-building at Victorian water temperatures!

So let’s get out and enjoy this summer with its long days and warm weather. Hopefully along the way we’ll find that exercise has become more than just an obligation and maybe even a joy.

[1] Webb, K. Dodd, M. ‘Exercise and Sports in Cystic Fibrosis: benefits and risks’. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 1999.

[2] Dwyer, T.’ Exercise in Cystic Fibrosis.’ PhD thesis,University ofSydney, 2010.

[3] J Abbott, M Dodd, D Bilton, and A K Webb. ‘Treatment compliance in adults with cystic fibrosis.’ Thorax, 1994.