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‘Why can’t we go in the car, Daddy?’ If I hear this phrase from my children once more I shall scream! Our local supermarket is no more than half a mile away but always there is this inbuilt resistance to a simple ten minute walk. The immune system, like the rest of our body, thrives on exercise but scientific development seems determined to make our lifestyles become increasingly more sedentary. The motor car is the prime example but everywhere there are labour-saving devices. In shops there are lifts and escalators instead of stairs, airports have long walkways and at home there are electric carving knives and even power-driven toothbrushes!
If children are taught bad habits early in life they tend to persist into adulthood. In asthma there is no doubt that some kinds of exercise can bring on an attack but with the correct management this should not create any problem. There is also increasing evidence that the more exercise the child does take the less chance there is of wheezing developing. In other words the fitter the child the less asthma he or she will suffer. I am sure this is because of the increased efficiency of the immune system
I asked Julie and her parents how much exercise she was taking, and it turned out to be very little. She had only just started school, so her father always took her in the car as it was on his route to work and a friend’s mother gave her a lift home.
I asked her about games at school: ‘Well, we do have P.E. once a week in the school hall but we don’t really do very much and I don’t start netball until next year,’ Julie replied.
This is quite typical of many primary schools these days and arises partly from lack of interest from the teachers but mainly from insufficient government funding for facilities and sports equipment. I also enquired about swimming but unfortunately Julie had been too late to enroll for lessons so only went occasionally. The main responsibility for her sedentary lifestyle, however, really lay with her parents who did not encourage her at all. In addition to not walking to school they never went into the country at weekends or took her to the local leisure centre themselves.
Simon also very rarely walked and although there was football and cross-country at school he found both of these tended to make him wheeze so he rarely put much effort into them. The end result of this lack of exercise is an unhealthy immune system and therefore little resistance to illness, including asthma.
Children love ‘doing’ things. They love exercising themselves as long as it is presented in an attractive form. While walking to the local shop may not hold much instant appeal I have found that my own children love walking up mountains! All kids love swimming and it only requires a little effort to take them to the local pool once a week and the benefit to their body defenses will be enormous.
Walking and swimming are the most beneficial forms of exercise and it is wise to start with them if your own child does not do anything else. Then, with the immune system strong it is easy to move on to sports like football, cross-country and cycling which put much more strain on the airways.

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