People with the life-threatening illness cystic fibrosis (CF)* are used to catching infections but the bug I’ve recently caught is proving to be more of a help than a hindrance…
I’ve not been particularly happy with the state of my health and reduced lung function over the last few years, so last autumn after another intravenous (IV) treatment, I decided to draw a line in the sand and look at fresh ways to finesse my health regime.
‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. If what you are doing is not working, do something else.’ Joseph O’ Connor
Based on this adage, I made the commitment to alter some parts of my life. Rather than being on the defensive about not being able to exercise as much as I previously could, I was keen to go on the offensive and give something new a go. And that was to join a gym.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was reticent to get involved with gyms. This was partly due to the feeling that I would be in ‘competition’ with healthier people therein, but predominantly because if I needed to cough hard or clear my lungs, I believed a gym wouldn’t be terribly conducive or discreet.
Going to a gym after 41 years would be my ‘Dr Pepper’ moment – ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ After all, if I didn’t try it after all these years of persuading myself that it wasn’t right for me, I would never know.
The catalyst for this change was thanks to an intervention by a physiotherapist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and a kind offer of membership by Nuffield Health in Cheam, which I started attending last October. For cross-infection reasons, prior to starting at the gym they conducted a check whether they had any other CF adults as members, which they didn’t. To assist with my CF needs and concerns, the centre manager and one of the personal trainers (who would be initiating me) were briefed about my health situation.
I must admit that going there for the induction and first work-out was a pretty daunting experience. Would the personal trainer understand? Would it be obvious to the other members that I was different? How long would I last on the treadmill before having a coughing fit? Would I feel like an imposter?
Working out (how much exercise is enough)
I have been frequenting this gym two to three times a week for the last four months, including weekends and evenings following a busy day at work. My routine consists of interval training – running bursts and speed walking – on the treadmill for anything from 30 to 60 minutes to get my lungs to work hard. A real bonus of this has been the chance to watch TV as I get fit!
At this point it’s important to visit the toilet to clear my lungs as it churns the phlegm up. The session is concluded by a short turn on an exercise bike and 20 minutes of weights which helps to stave off the harsh side-effects of 20 years of steroids and my osteoporosis.
As I’m extremely prone to diabetic hypos from exercise, I bring my glucose energy tablets and flapjack bars with me. There have been quite a few occasions, when I step off the treadmill that I have needed to sit down for a while with my energy bar while my body re-aligns its blood sugar levels. One time, when at a very low ebb and nearly keeling over, I was kindly given some free chocolate by one of the personal trainers.
I was concerned about my need to cough in front of others while exercising but this fear was set aside on day one. These gyms are pretty noisy environments with boisterous SPIN, Box-fit and high-intensity training classes taking place all around. As well as that, most members are wired into their mp3 players or listening to the TV console as they work out. I cough with no feeling of guilt.
It’s gym life, but not as you know it
In my short time there, a lot of my pre-conceived clichés about gyms have been disproved. There’s a mix of shapes and sizes, not everyone’s a picture of health and not many men are wearing too much pink lycra.
The gym isn’t full of superhuman physical specimens running around like Olympians. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that the clientele is an assorted mix of athletic prowess. Not everyone is running flat out on the treadmill as if their life depended on catching the number 93 bus from Wimbledon to Putney.
A fair few gym incumbents use the treadmill to lightly train by only speed walking. This made me realise that a gym allows you to exercise at whatever level suits the individual and therefore such an environment could be appropriate for anyone whether they’re healthy or not, disabled or able-bodied.
Fitness makes perfect
I’ve definitely changed my mind on the value of a gym membership. You could say I’ve exercised away my demons. After 41 years of struggling with running outdoors, even in cold weather, my eyes have been opened that there are other ways of maximising my health. I have to say that it’s been a revelation for me.
Historically, during harsh winter weather of snow and extreme cold, I would not have been able to get any form of exercise for weeks at a time. However, the gym is winter proof. I can exercise even when it’s raining which I’d be loath to do if I was running outside in the wet. Apart from occasional games of league hockey for London Edwardians, I’ve not needed to run outside for a few months. With spring and warmer weather around the corner, that hopefully bodes well, though CF can catch you out when you least expect it, so I need to stay resolute and on my guard.
I’m definitely benefiting from the exercise and I’ve seen improvements in my running duration on the treadmill and in my ability to lift bigger weights. It’s an obvious statement but the more I exercise, the healthier I seem to get. It reinforces the paramount importance of exercise, however much or little is possible, for CF sufferers. Sport, mainly my hockey, has been absolutely vital in my longevity and defying the harsh CF odds.
Despite a long cold winter in the UK and succumbing to a few colds around Christmas, I’ve not needed my habitual mid-winter February IV treatment and time off work. Also the extra exercise has boosted my diabetic blood sugar level which has in turn helped to reduce the build up of infection in my lungs.
I noticed recently on my blog search report that someone had entered an internet search entitled ‘Tim Wotton obituary’. I was initially taken aback that anyone was hunting for my death eulogy. Perhaps they were concerned that my recent lack of blog posts had a sinister connotation and that I was no longer around and I was writing postcards from heaven instead.
The truth is that I am very much alive and kicking. I’ve caught the gym exercise bug and it’s one I want to hold onto. To achieve something you’ve never had before, you must do something you’ve never done before. How true…
I will keep you posted on my life affirming moments, trials and tribulations as and when they happen. Please keep reading and sharing my blog and sign up (on the right hand side tab) if you have not already done so.
Yours cup half full.
I have been amazed by the zany ways family and friends have fundraised for CF over the years. My work director, Enda Logan, steals the prize as he’s doing a tandem jump out of a plane in Texas on 17 April. If you feel inclined, do sponsor this fine fellow and give him wings!
* Cystic Fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life threatening inherited diseases, affecting over 8,500 people. The condition affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food. Each week, five babies are born with the condition, however, each week, three young lives are also lost to it. There is currently no cure for CF. However, existing gene therapy trials in the UK are bringing people with the illness closer to a form of cure but CF is not that well known and would benefit from more public donations.
For more information and to find out more view the CF Trust Website.