Exercising with Cystic Fibrosis

As my training winds down in the final weeks leading up to the marathon, I reflect back on why I wanted to dedicate this marathon to Cystic Fibrosis in the first place. Being a member of Kin Canada, which has been a big supporter in the fight against CF, we often invite guest speakers with CF to our conventions to talk about how it has affected their lives and how the efforts of Kin have made a difference to them. Often they will speak about how they have very limited energy, and how activities like running, dancing, and sometimes even walking are a major struggle.

From my schooling as a physiotherapist, I also got to know a bit more of the science of how CF can affect a person. I thought it would be an interesting science experiment to feel for myself what it’s like to breathe when you have Cystic Fibrosis.

Essentially, people with CF have decreased lung function due to extra-thick mucous that plugs their lungs, traps bacteria, and causes recurrent and frequent lung infections that create scarring and blockages in their airways. As a result, they simply can’t move air in and out of their lungs like a person with healthy lungs can. The best way to understand it would be to try to breathe through a straw, which limits the flow of air. While breathing in and out is seemingly effortless to somebody like you or me, it feels like work, even at rest, for a person with lung damage from CF.

I made a video this weekend to document my experience. I compared running at my marathon pace on a treadmill, to running on a treadmill while being forced to breathe only through a straw. The difference was pretty startling, and afterwards I was sweaty, my muscles were aching, and I felt light headed.

Imagine having that feeling every day of your life. Every time you had to do so much as get up and walk, it would require tremendous effort to breathe. Running more than a few feet would be next to impossible. Sadly, that is the reality for many people with CF. Eventually their lungs get damaged to the point where their only hope of survival or quality of life is a lung transplant, and many die while on the waiting list.

That is why I’m running for CF. I run to raise awareness and funds in the hope that we will continue to make progress in the fight against CF, to improve the quality of life and the life expectancy of those unfortunate enough to be born with this terrible disease.