How Sports Could Be The Answer To Improving Your Childs Pulmonary Conditioning

Mar 25, 2019 | Blog

One of the hardest things to do is understand that you cannot protect your child from the outside world. Eventually they are going to grow up and take on the world and you just hope you have done enough to prepare them for what’s to come. Those feelings of protecting your child increased when you heard your son or daughter was diagnosed with a pulmonary condition. No one knows how hard it was to hear those words from the doctor or the shock you went through. All you knew at that moment in time is that you were going to protect your child and fight this to the end. Your love for your child runs deep. No one will ever question that. It runs so deep that sometimes it may be holding them back for opportunities to improve their health. You have all the intentions in the world to make things perfect for them but maybe that’s just it, maybe they need a little of imperfect. Challenges that are physically demanding that you can’t offer but only provide the opportunity to engage in.

 As your son or daughter grows up, their challenges will grow with them. Things will be different but not in any way that can stop them from doing what any typical kid can do. As you grow with them, it is imperative that your child stays active. Klijin et al. (2003) found that kids with cystic fibrosis that had a higher VO2peak, also showed an increase in survival rate over time. VO2peak is the amount of oxygen your body can consume during exercise. VO2peak can be increased simply by enrolling your son and/or daughter into sports, especially at a young age.  By enrolling your child in a sport early on, he/she can work on improving his/her VO2peak  in a manner that is fun and engaging. The hardest part of working on improving a kid’s health is keeping them engaged with the task at hand and keeping them doing it consistently over the long haul. Enrolling your child in basketball, soccer or any youth sports that involve some sort of running could help aid in improving your son’s or daughter’s VO2peak. Sports are fun and kids need fun. They need to grow and let their imaginations run wild. What better way than through sports.


Sports at a young age not only help slow down a decline in lung function, but it can teach your son our daughter how to problem solve with other youngsters, improve their hand eye coordination and increase their respiratory muscular strength through the short bursts of running up and down the court during a game. The respiratory muscles are breathing muscles, but they are also core stabilizing muscles. They allow us to move at slow or high forces. This also means they have the ability to help create more force behind coughs and help clear more mucus from the lungs. And as you already know, it’s important to be able to cough up all that mucus.

We understand that it can be scary to put your child in sports that could cause them harm. It is understandable to be cautious on how hard the demand of a sport could be on your child.

Talk with your clinical doctors and pulmonary care team. They are always advocating for youth sports. They can help you make the right accommodations. Every child should experience some form of sports as they grow up. Whether it is basketball or baseball, put your kids in something that will be challenging both mentally and physically. Improving their mind body connection will help them strengthen their ability to fight their disease later on.



 Klijn, P.H, Terheggen-Lagro, S.W., Van der Ent, C.K., Van der Net, J., Kimpen, J.L., & Helders P.J. (2003). Anaerobic exercise in pediatric cystic fibrosis. Pediatric Pulmonology, 36(3), 223–229.



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Intrinsic motivation is something that develops over time. Kids don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to grasp the concept that, “exercising is good for physical and mental health.” The understanding that by “doing something good for your body now, your future self will thank you,” is far too abstract. Kids don’t live for the future, they live for the here and now.

By the time children are in high school and/or go through puberty, those high order thinking cognitive processes begin to develop. However, social obligations and a sense of figuring out one’s own identify often trump the desire to be consistently active for one’s own physical and/or mental health purposes.

Sports certainly help, as they play a role in encouraging healthy competitiveness within oneself and others, as well as promotes team building and social opportunities that child and young adults actively seek out. However, not every kid plays a sport or has the health opportunities to actively participate in one. So, how do we encourage motivating?


There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Some will say, intrinsic motivation is ideal because it creates long lasting effects on one’s drive and purpose to reach a goal. The definition of intrinsic motivation is, “behavior that is driven by internal rewards.” Extrinsic motivation is the opposite. Extrinsic motivation is defined as, “behavior that is motivated to perform an activity to receive an award or avoid punishment.”


When starting to increase your child’s motivation to exercise, extrinsic motivation is the “easiest” way to go. When young, a child/teen is beginning to develop his/her own sense of motivation and enjoyment from exercising, something that is not going to happen overnight. Fortunately, exercising regularly will naturally contribute to developing intrinsic motivation, as it increases the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins). But, habits do take time, so here are three tips to increase your child’s motivation to exercise!

  1. Reward System

There are often mixed reactions to implementing a reward system. However, a reward system is not something to frown about when working on establishing a foundation for positive behaviors. Research has shown that children respond better to positive reinforcements than they do to negative reinforcements.

How to begin a behavior reinforcement plan:

  • For children ages 7-12: Make a personalized goal tracker with your child. For example, if want your kid to do something physically active 3x a week, create a page with three boxes per week to check off after each workout (e.g., can use stickers, a drawing, a penny, etc.)
  • For children 13 and older: they can often keep rack on their own, and independence is key for teenagers and young adults.
    • Each workout = 1 point.
      • It is up to you to decide how often a reward occurs and what the reward will be.
      • Reward types: with your child’s help, create a list of 5 items/things that might be motivating to earn. For example, 30 minutes of a favorite show, a new toy or “surprise box,” staying up later one night a week, choice of a favorite meal for dinner, a new book, etc. The possibilities are endless!
  1. Social Opportunity

As an adult, performing 15 reps, 4x on one exercise is manageable. Our attention is longer. We enjoy isolation more. We have intrinsic motivation or tangible goals set for ourselves, like losing weight. However, children and young adults are heavily socially dependent with shorter attention spans. Their worlds thrive around social opportunities, So, make physical exercise a social experience. Workout with your child, put on a YouTube video and together and complete 30 minutes. Put on your child’s favorite music on in the background and encourage your child to work out for 20 minutes (set a timer). One time a week (or more) invite a friend or sibling, make it an event that can be done inside or outside, and make it fun.

  1. Bring back Play

Which brings us to our third tip: Bring back play! Even if you have a teenager or young adult, play is important to developing a positive attitude towards physical exercise. Play can consist of hiking with friends or family, trying a new activity in your community, and generally, reducing the strict structure around exercise that children and young adults often try to escape as they build independence and autonomy. A majority of the time, exercising can consist of structured exercises catered around a specific goal, however, a few times a month it’s important to switch it up and encourage exploring of physical exercise through unstructured (play) opportunities.


















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