“If you have the aspiration of kicking ass when you’re 85, you can’t afford to be average when you’re 50.”
As CFers are living longer, fuller lives this sentiment from Peter Attia rings true. Many CFers are capable of living to “old age” but it doesn’t just come naturally. We have to put in hard work for our health, but the hard work is worth it and will pay off in the long run. We could potentially delay the onset of worsening disease by being wholly conscious of our health choices, including diet and exercise.
Exercise and an FEV1 of 105%
Exercise is a key component to health, possibly the one thing above all else that keeps people healthy and feeling young. All kinds of exercise are important. Aerobic exercise and weight training should both be part of a weekly routine for CF self-care. I know finding the time can seem daunting with all the other care we have to do, but even though we feel good with Trikafta and other modulators, we can’t skip out on exercise. Aerobic exercises like biking, jogging and dancing can help loosen mucus in the lungs in a similar way to our vest. They also strengthen our airways and help us to breathe deeper and more freely. Building muscle with weight training exercises helps support healthy blood sugars, supports joints and reduces risk of injuries and mentally makes us feel good.
Feeling good is another component of a long and healthy life. Exercise and activity reduce the risk of depression and anxiety drastically. At 35, I maintain a 105% FEV1 and I contribute that in large part to an active life from a young age. As an adult I enjoy going to the gym for weight training, going on walks with my family and I absolutely love my Peloton. I was never big into cardio and my Peloton has been a game changer. Biking is one of the best aerobic exercises you can do, and the Peloton makes it easy to do at home. It also has a whole host of other classes such as weight training, stretching, yoga and meditation. It is the perfect all-in-one machine for busy lives. It is a bit on the pricey side but well worth it in my opinion.
A Healthy Mediterranean Diet
Exercise though is not the only key component to living a long, healthy life. Having a consciously healthy diet is also very important. I remember when I was younger calorie dense diets were pushed by doctors. However, calorie dense for some of us meant a lot of “unhealthy” choices, as they tend to have higher calorie contents. These processed foods, high sugar foods and fried foods, while giving us the calories we needed also cause inflammation in the body, blood sugar spikes and a host of other issues that build up over time. Giving ourselves the nutrients our body needs in a healthy well will take us so much farther than giving us the calories we need any way possible.
The Mediterranean diet is a great staple of longevity that includes a lot of healthy fats that can be taken with Trikafta to help us get those fat grams we need with our modulators. Healthy diets should include healthy fats like avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil. Fresh fruits and vegetables like berries and leafy greens, broccoli, peppers and citrus fruits are also important. Beans are an awesome source of plant protein and fiber. Lean meats like chicken, turkey and fish are also great. Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pastas should be substituted for enriched wheat pastas, rice and breads. You can easily look at the ingredients and see if a grain product in enriched or whole grain.
One of my favorite go to lunches that includes all the healthy things is a Southwest chicken salad, homemade not store bought. I do a bed of spinach, kale and salad mix lettuces. I grill a chicken breast and chunk it up, getting two servings out of it so the other half goes in the fridge for the next day. I dice up red onion and jalapeno (choice of pepper you use is totally personal, bell peppers are a great choice as well). I also use half an avocado to add as well. I heat up a can of drained and rinsed black beans and use 1/3 of a cup for my salad, the rest is leftovers. I top the salad with a few tortilla strips, my preferred shredded cheese and squeeze half a lime over it. I use a sweet oil and vinegar dressing, but again choice of dressing is personal. This salad is delicious and packed with nutrients.
Everything in Moderation but Prioritize Healthy Choices
I fully believe that even with a diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis, we can extend our life expectancy with good and conscientious efforts to better our health each and every day. Does it have to be perfect? No. Can we enjoy a snack or a sweet or a drink with friends once in a while? Of course. But as they say, everything in moderation. These should not be things included in our everyday diet if we want to live a longer, healthier life. We should also prioritize exercise. If you aren’t sure where to begin, reach out to a friend who exercises or find ideas on YouTube. YouTube has tons of great videos for at home workouts. Join your local gym. Not only will it get you out of the house but you can learn a lot from watching others.
I attribute my good health and lung function in large part to being very proactive about exercise and healthy eating. I encourage parents of young CFers to teach their children about healthy choices from a young age and limit inflammatory foods like sugary drinks and fried or processed foods as much as possible. Get them active in sports and get them outside playing with friends inside of inside on video games or TV. Starting good habits early helps us keep and create good habits as adults. I truly believe we can defy the odds by pushing ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves possible.
I encourage each and every one of you to make diet and exercise a priority and see how it changes your life. You will be giving yourself the best shot possible of living longer. You will reduce your chances of comorbidities like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. You will feel better mentally. You will feel happier and less stressed. It may not be the easy route, especially at first, but isn’t it worth it to prolong your longevity or the longevity of your children?