How I’m encouraging exercise for my child with cystic fibrosis

A fundraising event sparks ideas about fun ways to get active

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by Jennifer Chamberlain |

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A banner illustration depicting a woman holding her baby daughter at a beach for Jennifer Chamberlain's column

I am not an athlete by any means. But I recently signed up to participate in a hiking fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Normally, I participate in a yearly walking fundraiser, but I had to choose another event this year because of my work schedule. Among the options was something called Xtreme Hike, in which supporters hike scenic routes up to 20 miles around the country to challenge themselves both physically and philanthropically.

The name sounds scary enough that I questioned myself after signing up. Once I did my first practice hike, I realized just how much of a challenge it would be for me.

But I’m trying to use this fundraising event to integrate more exercise into my family’s routine, especially for my 4-year-old daughter, Claire, who has cystic fibrosis (CF). My hope is that introducing physical fitness into Claire’s life early will embed an appreciation and desire to continue exercising as she gets older.

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The benefits of exercise for those with cystic fibrosis

Studies have shown that physical activity can benefit the health of those with CF, such as by reducing chronic inflammation and slowing lung function decline. Regular physical activity over time has also been associated with fewer upper respiratory infections.

Still, it can be scary to have your child with CF participate in physically demanding activities. Claire has been doing dance classes since she was 2 years old and gymnastics since she was 3. When she was little, I’d worry before every class that she’d come out gasping for air or coughing. That did happen a few times, as she tends to cough with rough physical exertion. Overall, though, she has the energy and stamina to keep up with other children.

However, exercise can be a double-edged sword because it burns vital calories and increases the risk of dehydration. Maintaining weight has always been a struggle for Claire, as it is for many people with cystic fibrosis. On days when Claire does active exercise, I have to ensure that she gets extra calories and hydration.

Setting an example

I try to keep up with a steady exercise regimen so that Claire can learn by example. It’s difficult to find the time and energy to exercise when I have so many tasks and responsibilities. But consistent exercise significantly benefits my mental health as a caregiver.

Personally, I work out more for the mental health benefits than the physical ones. I know children learn from their parents, so I want to be a healthy example for them. That doesn’t mean I take things to an extreme. We still have screen time and lazy days, but I try to keep the kids as active as possible.

Signing up for this hike has helped me consider how I can get creative and get the kids active in natural settings. We don’t have to stick with organized sports to work fitness into our lives. Currently, we’re on a two-week camping trip that will take us through Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. We have been hiking, swimming, and exploring all day. The kids are having the time of their lives, and they’re blissfully unaware that they’re actually reaping long-term benefits.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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