Busting myths around exercise
Carol Keen, clinical specialist physiotherapist at the Sheffield Pulmonary Vascular Disease Unit, runs through some common misconceptions about getting active which lead people to think they can’t do any exercise.
Myth 1: Exercise will make my breathlessness worse!
You might think that you are too breathless to exercise, or that being breathless means you shouldn’t. That’s not the case. It’s ok to be a little bit breathless – in fact, it can be a good thing because it means you are training your body. The important thing is to be the ‘right amount of breathless’.
What is the ‘right’ amount of breathlessness?
Imagine that we are going to go for a walk. We are going to start off really, really slowly, almost as if we are walking down the aisle in a church at a really slow pace.
We might increase our pace a little bit, a similar speed you may take when wandering around the shops. You’re walking slowly so you can see what’s in the shop window and you’re stopping from time to time to see what interests you. You’re walking and you’re active and you’re probably not breathless at that point.
If you increase the pace a little bit again you might be walking at a gentle walk for you (it will be different for everybody) and at that gentle walk pace you’re not breathless. You might get tired after a while, but you are not breathless. And all of these are absolutely fine, but you’re not exercising – you’re being active.
If you increase your pace of a walk to the next step beyond that gentle walk you might start to feel that you’re a little bit breathless, but that’s fine as well.
You should still be able to have a conversation, but maybe you’re catching your breath here and there. That is perfect – that’s the pace you want to be working at and how breathless you want to be, and that means you’re exercising and training your body.
When exercising, you should feel a little bit out of breath but still be able to talk
This breathlessness at this point is not a symptom of your PH, it’s because you’re exercising at the right intensity. It’s a good place to be.
If you walk a bit quicker than that and your breathing gets a little bit harder and laboured, and talking is too hard, then you’re working too hard and you need to slow your pace back down again.
If you are walking so quick so that you’re struggling and gasping for your breath then you really are working too hard and you need to stop, rest and recover your breath, and start again at a slower or gentler pace.
Myth 2: Exercise is expensive!
People tell us that it can be too expensive to exercise and that they can’t afford it. Joining a gym and buying fancy kit and trainers is an option, but you really don’t have to. There are lots of inexpensive and different ways you can get involved with physical activity.
For example, there will be lots of charities and groups in your area that offer cheap and affordable ways to exercise, and clubs and societies that can be cheap to join. Most councils have exercise schemes that they run with people for health problems where you can access their local gyms at a reduced rate and get support and advice around exercising. If you ask at your local gym they will be able to give you information about that. Walking is also a really good way of exercising and keeping fit, and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Myth 3: Exercise is not enjoyable!
Many people think exercise is not for them because they don’t think they’ll enjoy it, or that it will be painful and miserable – that doesn’t have to be the case. If you find the right activity, you should be able to find something that you enjoy.
It’s about taking small, incremental steps towards exercising. If you take up volleyball having done nothing for years, then of course it’s going to hurt, but if you take some small steps towards being more active then it should be something that easily fits into your life.
It’s about taking small, incremental steps
The most important thing about being more active is that it can be fun. You can do things that you enjoy, do them with friends and with family and get the enjoyment of being in a group. And that means it’s not just beneficial for you but also to the people around you – the more active you are, the more you can do with family and friends.
Myth 4: Exercise takes too much time!
It’s easy to think that you might not have the time to exercise, or that your life already feels full.
You don’t have to spend huge chunks of time exercising. You can take small incremental steps by doing a little bit more today then what you did yesterday, and that way it will feel like it is fitting in with your life instead of taking over your life.
You can exercise at home, in chunks of ten minutes, and that will still make a difference. And if you exercise with family and friends, then it’s a way of socialising too and enabling you to spend time with people in a way that is enjoyable and making your life better.