1 in 20 people with asthma have severe asthma

"Tae Kwon Do classes give me such a sense of achievement"

Keeping fit helps Jo Simm to better control her severe asthma

“Being diagnosed with severe asthma when I was 41 was very hard and stressful. Asthma has always been in my life but, on the whole, well managed. I suddenly felt very out of control. I decided to lose weight and get fit as I felt that while I didn’t necessarily have any control over my asthma, this was something I could change."

A difficult diagnosis

"I started getting asthma symptoms as a baby and can’t remember not having it. It affected me a bit at school, and P.E. was a nightmare as I couldn’t run because I would get out of breath easily. I had an asthma attack in my early twenties, but as I got older my asthma was quite well controlled.

"In late 2013 I noticed wasn’t feeling right and was getting really unwell with my asthma. My symptoms were getting worse and were harder to control. I went to my GP and was told I had pneumonia. I was given medication, but it got to a point where I really couldn’t cope and had to take lots of time off work. I couldn’t even breathe for myself. I went back to my GP and was referred to hospital for tests. It was then that I was diagnosed with severe asthma – thought to be caused by the pneumonia.

"The diagnosis was a shock and I struggled a lot. Even though I was overweight, I was very happy and content; I have a happy marriage, good family and a great job as a practice nurse. I went from being out and about and running a home to hardly being able to get out of bed and puffing like a train. I had to take a huge amount of time off work and life was tough for a bit. My asthma medication was stepped up really quickly and I had to start seeing a respiratory physio. My family – husband, kids Holly, 17 and Maddy, 15 and my extended family - were amazing and very supportive. But I wanted to do everything myself and I missed the person I was before the diagnosis."

Making a change

"After I was diagnosed with severe asthma I noticed how much it was affecting my health. I have a huge range of triggers, including the weather, pollen, animals, dust, hot and cold drinks and exercise but I try to manage as best I can. I take seven different medicines every day for my severe asthma, including two different inhalers and steroid tablets. I take them exactly as the doctor prescribes because I know that they all work in different ways and I can't function well without them. But although I’m good at taking my medication, I wanted to lose weight, so I joined a local weight loss club and also started Pilates. I wanted to do something nice and gentle at my own pace and level.

"Tae Kwon Do came to my attention because it’s something my teenage daughters have done for many years. They are both second-degree black belts and they also have asthma. Even though Tae Kwon Do can be quite intense, the girls have never struggled and are now training four days a week for two hours at a time. For them, going to Tae Kwon Do is like going to school; it’s just part of what they do and their asthma doesn’t hold them back.

"When I reached my target weight of nine stone in October 2015, my friend and I (I'm in the black top) both joined the class. I was anxious at first, but I like a challenge and wanted to get fitter. I was hooked straight away and wish I’d started sooner!"

Knowing my limits

"Tae Kwon Do classes begin with stretching, cardio, and work with partners. The main focus is sparring (controlled contact fighting with boots and gloves) and learning new patterns (set routines). The techniques practised depend on your individual belt colour and step sparring ability. I now train three times a week for an hour at a time. It can be tough and sometimes I physically struggle to do some of the moves, which can be frustrating. But it has helped me realise what my limits are and it gives me such a great sense of achievement. I may not feel 100% with my asthma all the time, but there’s no reason why I can’t join in and do the patterns and sparring like everyone else.

"I always use my reliever inhaler beforehand, and keep it with me just in case I need to use it when I’m taking part. The instructor and everyone in class is aware of my asthma, and I’ve shared my asthma action plan with my husband, children, and a few friends who I train with, so they know what to do if I have an asthma attack. Knowledge is power and I feel reassured that there are always people nearby who can help if I start to get symptoms."  

Taking back control

"My severe asthma diagnosis changed everything, and I became so withdrawn. But I quickly realised that if I wanted things to change I had to take back control. I had to learn about my asthma, and understand my triggers and how to manage symptoms. It’s only now I’m feeling better with my asthma that I appreciate how poorly I was. Sometimes my asthma doesn’t work in the way I want it to, but when it does, I feel great!"

Last updated September 2016

Next review due September 2019