Long term health conditions

Sport and exercise with a long-term condition

Many of the young people that we talked to said they can do exercise or sports if they take certain precautions. For instance young people with epilepsy pointed out that they need to be careful when going swimming or cycling in case they have a seizure. One young woman said that there are some common sense precautions that anyone with epilepsy should take like wearing a helmet when cycling, or going swimming with someone that knows their condition, or just telling the life guard at the pool. She thinks that scuba diving is the only sport a person with epilepsy can't do. Young people with asthma said that if they use their inhaler (reliever) before, and sometimes during, exercise they have no problem with exercise or sports. One young woman with cystic fibrosis said that she needs to take antibiotics before, during and after she goes skiing to prevent chest infections. 

The young people with cystic fibrosis (CF) emphasised, perhaps more than others, the importance of doing sports and aerobic exercises like jogging or swimming, because of the direct and beneficial impact on their condition. One young woman said that sport and exercise is the best way of keeping her lungs in the best possible condition until a cure or effective treatment is found. Young people with CF talked of having run marathons and doing all sort of exercises and sports including regular jogging or biking, gym sessions, swimming, netball, squash, skiing and even scuba diving. However, just like many others even without long-term conditions, they face the problem of trying to fit exercise and sport into busy life schedules. Some people with CF who were busy with work and college said that they found aerobic exercises more beneficial than physiotherapy. 

Young people with some other conditions including heart problems, sickle cell disease or kidney disease said that they have been told by their medical team that they should avoid participating in any kind of 'contact' sport. One young man on dialysis is unable to take part in most sports but goes to the gym to do very light exercises. Inability to participate in group and competitive sports frustrated some but not others. One sixteen year old who loves football sees this as one of the most difficult things about having a heart condition. A seventeen year old who grew up without been able to play football or rugby because of his arthritis said that as he didn't know what he was missing, it was not a problem for him. Another young man said that he needs to pay attention to what his body is telling him and knows when to stop to avoid a sickle cell crisis.

Many young people said that their parents had encouraged them to take up exercise and sports as children. Parents enrolled them in swimming lessons, football teams, dance classes, went jogging with them, took them on walking holidays etc. One young woman said that her mother saw it as important to keep her and her sister physically active and healthy and also thought they should be doing things with other children rather than being isolated at home. 

Several of the young people we talked to, do exercise despite some physical limitations. One young woman joined a Tai Chi class and explained that although some movements are difficult or impossible for someone with arthritis, the teacher taught her to do the movement in her mind instead. She says that she was able to visualise her wrists in full movement. She found the Tai Chi class very good as it taught her that inside 'we are all the same'. A few young women said that they are too self-conscious about their bodies to do exercises in public, particularly swimming. 

Young people emphasised that they engage in sport or exercise regularly to keep fit and also because it gives them a sense of control and power over their condition and symptoms. One young man said that he had felt isolated because he was unable to participate in sports and that this can be an issue for someone with asthma like himself. He said that feeling excluded can discourage young people from participating in sports. 

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated April 2010.


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