"I can run further and faster than before, I’ve lost weight, and I discovered that I love running"

Paul Donnelly avoided exercise for years. Now he’s back in control

"I was diagnosed with asthma aged eight – the first time I had symptoms I was out cycling with my mum. It was May and there was loads of pollen in the air, and I had a really bad asthma attack, although I didn’t know it at the time. When we got home and I didn’t feel any better, mum called a GP out, and he diagnosed me with asthma. I had other incidents as a child when I would either end up in hospital or had a doctor come out to see me.

"I used to cycle a lot around the suburbs and woods, but as I got older, and after a couple of scary asthma attacks, I started playing outside less. Asthma did start to restrict what I did. I was signed off PE and games at school for years because exercise is a real trigger for me – my mum was very concerned, so I stopped playing rugby and running cross-country.

"Asthma can be very restrictive – I’ve lived with it and known that it’s serious for so long. But getting outdoors, however you can, is great for your physical and mental health.

"As an adult I avoided cardiovascular exercise because being breathless made me feel anxious that I was going to have an asthma attack, and I gained a lot of weight. Watching the Olympics in 2008 really inspired me to get more active, so I started running for the first time in years."

Working with my GP helps me stay in control

"The GP calls me in for an asthma review each year, to check my medicines and peak flow. They’re pretty good at listening to my experience and suggesting new medicines if I’m struggling with side effects.

"Although my asthma’s usually well-controlled, I am very conscious of it. Bad control usually shows up when I’m running, so if I’ve been struggling I make sure to mention it to my doctor. I carry my reliever inhaler with me absolutely everywhere, either in my bag or pocket. When I go running I stuff it down my shorts! It’s like a part of my body, so if I’m without it, I start to panic."

I really notice the difference now

"When I first started exercising again, I was stopping and starting, and relying on my reliever inhaler, but now I know that if I start to feel breathless I can stop, calm myself and concentrate, and then see if I need to use my inhaler or not. I know that most of the time my breathing will return to normal, and calm any panicky feelings.

"Now I don’t let asthma hold me back. I’ve built exercise into my routine – I run home from work a few times a week, and do a few laps of Clapham Common at the weekend. Each time, I test myself and try to run a little further. In the last eight years I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my health and my asthma – I can run further and faster than before, I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I discovered that I love running."