CF & Fitness: Part 1

Originally published on Sunday, 16 March 2014

My first experience
My first experience in a gym was when I was in college in 1999. I won a year’s free membership at a privately owned gym. However this was short-lived when I realised it wasn’t 100% free, so cancelled the contract.

I didn’t really like that particular gym anyway as it just didn’t feel right. It was empty and had no atmosphere that would help with motivation.

I tried to stick to cycling, which for a time became my main form of exercise. However, the problem with having a car is convenience.

I always wanted to get back into some form of fitness, as I knew how much it would benefit my health. However, my main problem was motivation and finding something I would enjoy.

A new start
Over the years I’ve seen vast improvements in medication offered to Cystic Fibrosis patients. The biggest in my time was the TOBI inhaler, which replaced the TOBI nebuliser.

As a result of starting the TOBI inhaler, my lung function improved. This made me wonder if an inhaler could do that to my lung function, what exercise would do.

Whenever I thought of exercise, I always wanted to add tone to my body. Often I would look at other toned guys wishing I had their physique rather than the thin body I had.

Although I wanted to join a gym, I had the perception I would get looked at, which put me off. Plus I felt intimidated by other gym members who were in better shape than me.

However, this didn’t stop me. I decided to hire a Personal Trainer (PT), who would visit my home once a week for an hour’s workout on free-weights.

My first session
My PT and I chatted about my diet, health, what exercise I’ve done (or not done) in the past, and what I wanted from exercise, he started me on a programme that best suited me.

One request I made to my PT was that he didn’t treat me any different because of my condition. He was happy with this request and like with any other client, he started me on a low weight and built up the weight according to my ability.

When we talked about my diet, I showed him my typical menu for the day, as detailed below. He thought this was perfect.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner Supper
60g porridge with 1/2pt semi-skimmed milk plus 1tsp set honey


1x fortisip (300kcal drink)
Sandwich (multi-seed bread spread with olive spread) with:

tuna/ham, lettuce, cucumber, low-fat mayo and / or low fat cheese spread sandwich plus tomato, with crisps or yoghurt


salad (tuna / corned beef, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and low-fat mayo – sometimes with diced cheese)


green olives with a light drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar

and / or

Chicken or fish (cod / breaded haddock / salmon)


salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber & pepper)


mixed veg (carrots, broccoli & cauliflower)


jacket potato, chips or pasta


low-fat mayo or low-fat cheese spread
Glass of milk


2x fortisip (300kcal drink)

The only advice he gave was I ate something 2 hours before a workout and also 30 minutes after.

Before my workout, I had a 3-egg cheese and tomato omelette on toast before the workout and a Protein shake after. However, I was later advised by my dietician that 1 fortisip would be better and no expense spared either.

The programme was as follows (weight includes the weight of barbell):

ExerciseWeight (kg)No of setsReps per set
Shoulder press13.5312
Chest press16312
Back press16312

There was a 2-minute rest between each set.

After the first workout, I felt shattered but really pleased I got through it. My legs were numb and I walked like John Wayne for 2 days. However, it was worth it because it felt so good.

As expected with any form of exercise, I was breathless and felt my heart working hard, but with rests between exercises, I felt the benefit the impact the exercise had on me.

It did make me cough, but not as bad as I expected.

Over the weeks the Personal Trainer noticed my coughing became less. I still got breathless, though not as bad and recovery time got better too.

Mental and physical changes
As the weeks progressed, I started to show improvements to my mental health as well as physical.

Mentally I had better moods, slept better, maintained a good appetite, gained confidence in body image…the list goes on.

Physically noticed small changes at first, but over time I found I was showing bulk in particular in the shoulders.

My friends saw these changes too. The confidence this brought over the months was amazing.

The main change mentally as I started to love my body with how nice it started to look. Some may probably think this as vane, but when you’ve spent years hiding your body because you didn’t like how it looked, you’d understand why I felt the way I did.

An example of how happy and confident I became over my body image is that when I was on holiday in 2012, I wore shorts and a t-shirt on the beach. I didn’t want to go topless as I didn’t like how my body looked.

When I was on holiday in 2013 (4 months into my workout), I felt so confident about the body image I wore swimming shorts and no top.

Joining the gym
It was often suggested by my PT I should attend fitness classes such as Zumba, Spinning or possibly Circuit Training.

I wasn’t 100% sure I’d feel comfortable doing these. Not because I was incapable, but at the time I liked doing things in the privacy of my own home.

When I attended the children’s hospital clinics, I had to be examined by the Doctor whilst up to four medical students watched. I absolutely hated this. I found it embarrassing especially in my adolescent. Nowadays the Doctor has to ask permission whether I’d be ok having a student watch and learn processes of treatment given. You can say this had an impact in my adult years whereby I find it difficult to be able to do particular activities such as fitness classes where I’d be in a room full of people. I’d feel eyes are watching my every move.

When I brought this up with my PT I was told I had nothing to worry about as those attending were all there for the same reason and weren’t interested in what I did. They were only interested in the exercise they were doing.

My next concern about going into unknown territory was other members being well-built and I would stand out in comparison.

Whilst my PT reassured me of my good build, he also reminded me that everyone new to the gym starts off somewhere. They don’t walk into a gym already built up.

One person who helped me big time was Paul, a friend of mine who also goes to the gym. He told me he had been going for nearly a year and said once I was in the gym I would totally love it.

The more we spoke about fitness the more I wanted to join the gym. Paul told me about the benefits he felt from fitness training. He told me he was in a stressful job. He often said how he didn’t feel good about his body image or the way he felt at times and like I started weight training to get a better physique and take his mind off his problems. Not only did he benefit physically from the workout, but also mentally. He slept better, better moods, a good diet, and grew to love and admire his body.

Paul had doubts about my seriousness of wanting to keep fit, so one day, 6 months into my fitness training, I walked into my local gym and asked for information about becoming a member. I found the staff very helpful, friendly and welcoming. I took away information to read and returned later in the week to complete a membership form and arrange an induction.

I had an idea on what I was letting myself in for, but I didn’t know whether I’d like it or not.

My day of induction came and as I changed into my gym gear and commenced my induction, I started to feel enthusiastic by what was yet to come.

Upon entering the gym suite I realised there were people of all shapes and sizes. Not just toned or of a particular age. The atmosphere was really nice. Everyone was there for the same reason and got on with whatever workout they were doing.

My induction was done by a male instructor and there were 2 women there doing the induction with me.

He showed us some of the cardiovascular equipment, demonstrating how they worked, and then let us have a go. When it came to the weight machines, the women remarked how I made the lifting of the weights look easy. I was quite made up by their comments.

By the time the induction was complete, I wanted to stay and do my first workout. I started on the leg press, doing 3 sets of 12 reps on 50kg. Next, I moved onto other equipment I was shown during the induction and finished my workout on the exercise bike. I absolutely loved it. The atmosphere was brilliant. My worries were long gone. I left the fitness suite wondering why I made such a fuss. As soon as I could, I told Paul what I had done and he was really pleased.

My PT once mentioned that once I became a member of a gym, I wouldn’t require his services as much due to similar services being offered by the gym instructors. When I mentioned this to Paul, he suggested we went to the gym together so we could spot each other.

The time came for our first gym session together. Paul showed me some exercise techniques that would work my abs, which I found easier to do than expected. When I showed him what resistance machines I used, he suggested a minor alteration to my leg workout, which I benefited greatly from.

My workout on resistance machines is as followed:

MachineWeight (kg)No of setsReps per set
Leg press50312

Plus 5 minutes on the exercise bike for 5 minutes on a 3-4 setting.

Chest press 35312
Upper back 25312
Mat exerciseNo of setsReps per set
Abdominal floor crunches312
Torso twisting sit-ups312
Leg raises312

Exercise gets results
Mark comments how well I’m developing health-wise as a result of what I’ve been doing. He said my breathing has improved and I’m more active than I used to be.

He once requested that I be careful when applying the hand brake on the car as without realising my own strength, I’ve been pulling it on too tight resulting with him struggling to take the brake off.

Other people have noticed my strength. Whether at work or whilst out shopping. I’ve been lifting heavy items such as 15kg bags of dog food or crates of Nepro without noticing how heavy they are.

Build on fashion
Not only has fitness resulted in me feeling stronger, but also resulted in me loving who I am more. I love how my body looks and the impact fitness has on my health.

I started looking at what I was wearing compared to other guys who were gym fit. I thought their clothes complimented their bodies nicely. I spoke to Paul about this and he suggested we went clothes shopping. Christmas came and I received some money to treat myself, and when the sale came in the New Year, Paul and I went to the business at various clothes shops in Manchester at the Arndale Centre and Trafford Centre.

The clothes I bought were amazing. I never felt so good as I did. Paul told me I would have head-turning with how well the clothes complimented my body. The main thing I looked forward to was Mark’s reaction.

When Mark saw me in my new clobber, he commented on how it was about time I treated myself to good quality clothing. Even my work colleagues thought I looked amazing.

Confidence booster
Since I started my workout back in June 2013 I feel I’ve gone from being a shy guy who was unhappy about his body image to someone full of confidence and has changed in many ways as a result both physically and mentally.

If I could wind back time to 1999, I would have done things a lot different had I knew then what I know now about the importance of exercise.

If anyone told me they wanted to join a gym, but didn’t know where to start, I’d tell them not to worry. There are staff there who are willing to help and many other people who would be in the same boat as them. I’ll admit whilst the gym appears to be a daunting place to go for the first time, once you’re in there, you’ll totally love it. Especially when you notice the benefits of fitness.

A good friend of mine who attends the CF clinic told me last November he was planning to join the gym. He joined in January and told me he adores the benefits already.

I’d like to point out that no matter how bad your health is, there will always be something you can do in fitness that you will benefit from. You just need to find what that exercise is. Even if it means consulting with a physiotherapist. There will always be someone there to guide you.

Never be afraid to ask nor to give things a try. You never know where asking will get you.

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