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Stories of a “Gym Major” with Asthma: Part Two – “You can probably explain this better than I can.”

Sitting at the front of the room in one of my favorite instructor’s lectures (I think it was Physical Activity and Aging), there’s a lecture on respiratory disease, seniors, and asthma unfolding around me (pause: yes, I didn’t just play in the gym/in fields all the time! Un-pause.). My instructor flicks the slide to asthma, starts to explain and pauses, looking at me.

“Hey,” She says, probably suddenly remembering the asthma presentation my group and I did in her Adapted Physical Activity class a year or two prior, “Kerri, you can probably explain this better than I can. Want to take over?”

I jump in, trying to turn sort-of towards the bulk of my classmates from my seat. In about two minutes (with a few prompts from my instructor to make sure I’m covering the right bullet points) I explain how exercise-induced asthma works, how it’s treated, and other brief strategies for exercise management like warming-up and cooling down. A couple students ask questions, and eventually I get to turn around again.

My instructor has a Bachelor of Physical Education and a Master of Science. Yet, she’s worked in a lot of situations directly with patients: with mature women, older adults at an outpatient rehabilitation centre, and with a bunch of other populations that she knows a lot about, but the cool thing was: she took that moment to step back and realize that someone with the experience she was about to teach on was right in front of her. (And of course, she knew I wouldn’t mind being “called out” and put on the spot for it from our previous encounters!).

As engaged, educated, empowered patients, we are the experts. Not every patient chooses to be an expert in their disease, and that is okay. We should have a basic understanding, however. And if you decide you want to learn more, that should be encouraged by the people around you (or you need to find different people). Even if we don’t have all the book knowledge a researcher, doctor, or other professional might, we have other super valuable knowledge: the experiences we have accumulated from living with asthma and figuring out how to navigate our worlds with this information.

One person at a time—or, one patient at a time—the medical and health communities are beginning to recognize this, embrace it, and ask us for our experiences, our input. Our opinions are not only valid, they’re becoming valued. Because even if I don’t know about all the molecular stuff going on in my body, I know the experience of living with that stuff. I know what asthma feels like to me, both in my lungs and in my head. For people who are going to be working with people with asthma, this is really crucial information. For practitioners without asthma, it helps give them a sense of “What is this like, at least for this patient?” and helps them develop empathy for when they encounter other people like me in the future.

“You can probably explain this better than I can,” validates my experience. It reminds me that my story is important and that my story needs to be told. And it reminds others that the condition you are reading about doesn’t just exist in a textbook: it exists in my body, and I am living that experience completely unlike a textbook!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • manley
    3 years ago

    I’ve been asthmatic since 16 years old and I’m now 90 with chronic bronchial asthma *COPD stage 3. I’ve been a physical therapist since 1952 and have worked out in gyms, gymnastics and other sports.
    I still bike, walk, gym and dance, getting in an average of 350-450 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. I went off of Symbicort which I was on for 3-4 years but use my recue inhaler or nebulizer prn. I don’t seem to notice much difference and prefer the least amount of medications as possible. I take no other medications, they all have their secondary.
    With my experience, I believe I can make better judgments in my case than the physicians in this regard, except in emergencies. I’m not sure I’m doing the best for myself and will probably never know. In any case it’s certainly a challenge.

  • Kerri MacKay moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Manley,
    Happy to hear that you are doing well! One of those interesting things that what works one year may not work another with lung disease! I definitely agree that for the most part patients–especially engaged ones–can make the right decisions for themselves most of the time… but like you said, sometimes we need a bit of backup :).
    Thanks for reading and sharing!

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