Ask Mark …

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Mark Mangus, RRT EFFORTS Board

An Arkansas EFFORTS member tells Mark she is walking 10 minutes daily and asks why exercise is so important for lung disease?

Mark replies, Folks with COPD and other chronic lung diseases can become trapped in what we call “the vicious or downward spiral”: You have trouble breathing when you move about. So you avoid it. The more you sit, the more out of shape you become so the more you sit. At some point, you find you cannot get up and move about without significant and perhaps immediate breathing difficulties. You will become more susceptible to exacerbations and infections.

The only way to survive and thrive with chronic lung disease – especially with COPD – is to “move it or lose it”! That’s why it is so important to exercise – exercise every part of your body – not just walking!

Learn breathing techniques like pursed lip breathing. Don’t stop your exercise to recover from your breathlessness. The more you stop to recover, the less you become “desensitized” to the hard breathing and the less your condition improves to reduce that hard breathing!

For folks who are extremely deconditioned, I have them walk on a level treadmill to build up tolerance, speed and duration before adding grade. I suggest you should try this until you can walk 20 to 30 minutes without stopping, building up the speed to 2 mph if you can. Adding “interval” training will effectively build strength and conditioning. Example: Walk at 1.2 mph for 5 minutes. Then up the speed to 2 mph and walk for a few minutes – until you get winded and are breathing harder than at the 1.2 mph. Drop your speed back down to 1.2 mph and keep walking. Don’t stop! When you stop to catch your breath and let your breathing settle down, you lose your head of steam. Push yourself to continue!

If you can, walk on the flat treadmill for a significant time, alternating both the speed and grade. Don’t do the same exercise pattern day in and day out. That is a monotonous exercising pattern that your muscles get use to. You then gain less conditioning from your effort.

A broad, comprehensive exercise program includes strength training using resistance exercises, like lifting weights for building arm and chest muscle strength. Weights can be a bag of dried peas/beans which come in 1, 2 pounds, etc. Simple leg exercises, like doing sit-to-stand repetitions without using your arms to help you stand, build strength in your legs and derrière muscles. Standing for increasing periods of time and doing various Tai Chi poses and movements to improve strength and balance are essential. Yoga for breath control and relaxation is very helpful.

A comprehensive exercise and conditioning program coupled with increasingly demanding physical activity in daily life are essential to improving your health and well-being, your symptoms and quality of life with COPD. 
Mark Mangus RRT, BSRC, is a member of the Medical Board of EFFORTS (the online support group, Emphysema Foundation For Our Right To Survive, www.emphysema. net). He generously donates his time to answer members’ questions.