Running with health conditions
Suffering from a chronic illness? In many cases running will help reduce your symptoms
About 18 million people in the UK have a chronic disease. These are long-term conditions that can’t be cured and are controlled by medications and other therapies. Being diagnosed with a chronic disease can make you fearful of the future. Taking regular exercise is a vital part of the management of these diseases but people are often unsure how much to do, worry what the risks might be and lack the confidence to make a start. Don’t be frightened, get informed, chat to your GP or nurse and start gradually. The diagnosis of a long-term condition can motivate you to make some very positive changes for your future health.
With well-controlled asthma you should be able to run as often as you want. Take your inhalers or medications as prescribed. ‘Preventer’ drugs need to be taken regularly. If exercise triggers your asthma then take your ‘reliever’ inhaler 15 minutes before you run. You’ll get to know your asthma. Don’t run if you feel it’s not under control such as when you have a heavy cold. An increase in coughing, especially at night, a tight chest and wheeziness when you run or a drop in your peak flow may be signs your asthma isn’t controlled so see your asthma nurse.
Tip: Try to avoid any triggers for your asthma such as pollen. Always carry your reliever inhaler with you.
HYPERTENSION (HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE)
If your blood pressure is very high – 180/100 – then don’t run at all until it’s under control. Regular exercise can help to reduce blood pressure and may stop you needing medication. The good news is that with controlled BP you can run freely. Always increase the intensity of training gradually. Keep well hydrated. Take prescribed medication consistently and attend regular health checks. High BP rarely gives many obvious symptoms. If you get chest pain, palpitations, visual symptoms or severe headaches then see a doctor straight away.
Tip: Consider getting your own BP machine for use at home.
There’s no restriction on frequency or duration of running for most people with Type 2 diabetes but if you have Type 1 or use insulin or tablets that cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) you need personalised advice about balancing your activity, diet, medication and sugar levels. If you’re at risk of hypoglycaemia you need to be aware of how it affects you and carry glucose to take if needed. Don’t overtrain, stick to your race plans and don’t suddenly increase intensity. Don’t run if you feel unwell. Keep well hydrated. Attending health reviews is essential. Fatigue, poor control of your blood sugars, recurrent infections and foot problems may be signs that you’re overdoing it.
Tip: Check with your GP or diabetic nurse before starting a running programme. Check your feet after every run looking for broken or red skin and blisters.
CORONARY HEART DISEASE (CHD)
Exercising four or five times a week for 30 minutes benefits those with CHD. Exercise that makes you feel slightly out of breath is OK but avoid extreme breathlessness and straining activities such as weight-lifting. Stop if you have chest, arm or jaw pain, palpitations, are very out of breath or lightheaded. Sit down and use your GTN spray or tablet if needed. Dial 999 if the pain doesn’t ease after your second dose. Build up any exercise gradually, don’t ignore symptoms.
Tip: It’ll take time to build confidence. Start very slowly. Look at other ways to improve your health too such as improving your diet.
You can run as often as you like if your seizures are well controlled. However, taking your medication regularly is essential. It’s best to run with someone else if you can and make sure that your running partner knows what to do if you have a seizure. Try to avoid your seizure triggers such as feeling tired or hungry. Make sure you’re well hydrated and fuelled before you run. Take time for your recovery too, eating soon after you stop running and resting completely to avoid fatigue. Don’t be afraid to have rest days in between your runs and if you feel tired, listen to your body. Avoid running on consecutive days if you are feeling excessively tired. An increase in your seizure frequency might be a sign that you’re overdoing it.
Tip: If you think running might be triggering a seizure, then try to optimise all the other variables such as hydration, body temperature, fatigue and fuelling.
BASIC SAFETY RULES FOR RUNNING WITH CHRONIC DISEASES
- Consider getting a medical identity tag such as www.medicalert.org
- Ideally run with someone else or at least tell someone your route and when you should be back.
- Carry any necessary medication and a mobile phone with you on every run.
- At races don’t forget to fill in the medical information on the back of your race number so the medics will know how to help you.