As I left the monthly COPD Support Group last Thursday that takes place at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” -Maya Angelou
How is life measured for the millions of people around the world who suffer from COPD, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder?
What becomes the motto of their lives? Perhaps it’s something as profoundly simple as, “Just breathe.”
It’s impossible to know what each moment of a COPD patient’s life feels like when so many are defined by the breaths they are struggling to take. All we can do at the COPD Store is empathize and provide as many resources and products as possible to improve our patients’ lives.
The topic this month at the COPD Support group is often overlooked: Exercise.
Many of us take for granted our ability to take a long, deep breath. For those who have COPD, each and every breath feels like part of a never-ending, exhausting exercise routine. Did you know breathing is exercise? Not just for those with COPD, but for everyone!
When your lungs are in shape, it’s easier to breathe. When you have COPD, you will need—let’s just say—“a little more conditioning”.
You may be wondering how you can “exercise” your lungs, so let’s get started.
Pursed-lip breathing and Diaphragmatic breathing are the two main exercises used to help COPD-sufferers exercise their lungs.Exercise one: Pursed-lip breathing
Some patients find it difficult when they are taking a breath out (exhaling). This obstruction is because the air inside their lungs has become stuck and built up which is making it difficult for their lungs to expand properly. You can use this technique anytime shortness of breath occurs to regulate your breathing patterns.
Pursed-Lip Breathing Instructions:
- Sit up straight in a chair (preferably a dinning or kitchen chair)
- Inhale deeply through your nose for two to five seconds (i.e. count to 5 on one hand)
- Purse your lips (as if you are going to whistle)
- Exhale through your pursed lips three times longer than that of your deep breath in (i.e. count to 5 three times on one hand) but DON’T force the air out.
A video demonstration of Pursed-Lip Breathing
Exercise Two: Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many practices, even Yoga to restore balance into one’s life. It helps with Anxiety, Sleep Disorders and many respiratory conditions. As you know, breathing with COPD can be exhausting. Diaphragmatic breathing is an exercise designed to help strengthen your diaphragm muscle, and as your muscle gets stronger… you will spend less energy trying to breathe, and more energy enjoying your life! You should do this for at least five minutes per session, three times daily.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Instructions:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet placed firmly on the bed or floor
- Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your abdomen
- Breathe in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. (3 times)
- When you breathe in the only hand that should move is the one placed over your stomach. Try to keep your chest as still as possible and use only your stomach to breathe. (It takes practice)
Breathe Clean Air
When it’s hard to breathe make sure the air you are breathing is as clean as possible. If you have COPD it’s no surprise that pollen, dust, second-hand smoke, exhausts and other strong fumes that exist within the environment can cause extreme flare-ups that can last for hours and sometimes even days. To help keep these triggers at bay here are a few helpful tips.Better Breathing Tips:
- Check the pollen counts before you plan outdoor activities.
- Control the air you breathe by keeping your doors and windows closed while filtering the air inside.
- Bring a change of clothes. Don’t be afraid to change your clothes when you come in from spending some time outdoors. You’d be surprised how much pollen can get trapped in the fibers of your shirts.
- If you are living with someone who suffers from COPD, it’s important to pay even more attention to your surroundings and make a list of common triggers you may notice affect them. Sometimes when they are experiencing flare-ups the COPD patient may not know what caused it in the first place. For example; a man was at the swimming pool when a nearby lady sprayed sunscreen on her child. The man didn’t know what triggered his flare-up until his wife brought it to his attention.
Join Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Pulmonary Rehab is a program specifically available to help those who suffer from COPD and show them how to make the best of their situation. Within the secure environment of pulmonary rehab, you will learn how to excel without crossing over any personal physical thresholds that could be dangerous. You will be taught specific techniques that will help you breathe easier, build strength, and adapt to your new lifestyle with COPD. Your therapists will teach you what you can, and should no longer eat, or do. They will offer tips to make your life easier to live with COPD and teach you little things, such as the importance of sitting up straight and not bending over when lifting objects. I love the quote by the famous poet, Robert Louis Stevenson: “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” This reminds me to stay adaptable and embrace change. Ask your doctor where you can get a PT Evaluation or for a good pulmonary rehab center close to you.
Only you can make a difference in the quality of your life, but joining COPD support groups like the one offered at National Jewish Hospital is an opportunity to “Share your Story” with those around you. Each story can provide just enough slice of inspiration to change the course of someone else’s life.
Until next month,
COPD Store Director