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Exercise and COPD: an oxymoron?

COPD

Does Mom say she feels too weak to exercise? Does Dad run out of breath just walking down the street? People dealing with COPD often believe that exercise will make things worse. Actually, in moderation, quite the opposite is true.

Very real benefits. Even people with severe COPD can become more physical. Something as simple as arm lifts or singing can improve breathing and reduce fatigue. Exercise also helps with the fuzzy thinking many older adults experience with their COPD—because it gets more oxygen to the brain. Plus, people who engage in physical activity even just three times a week have been able to reduce the severity of COPD flares. If they have to be hospitalized, they get home sooner. Best of all, it’s not that hard to achieve these improvements.

Talk with the doctor first. Don’t challenge your loved one to a mile starting out! A balanced approach is required with COPD. The goal is to stretch breathing capability and stamina a little bit at a time without getting overly tired. Your family member’s doctor can give guidelines about when to stop and when to push past that initial feeling of “today is not a good day.”

Ask for pulmonary rehabilitation. The doctor may be able to prescribe a special exercise class for people with COPD. Exercising under supervision supports your loved one to feel safe. A class also presents the chance to talk with others who face the same challenges, which helps combat the isolation and depression that are common with COPD.

Tips for making it easier. Have your loved one

  • pick an activity that is pleasurable;
  • start small and increase gradually;
  • find an exercise buddy. This adds fun and supports commitment;
  • ask to be trained on “pursed lips breathing.” This technique makes it easier to exhale deeply and bring in enough oxygen.

Does better breathing feel impossible?

At Senior Life Management we have seen how people with COPD who didn’t think they could exercise can actually improve their breathing with very light, supervised activities. Even a physical therapist coming to the home a few times can guide your relative to exercises that will reduce that scary feeling of air hunger. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you get the support needed to make each day the best it can be.

Is Breathing Difficult?

senior life management, inc

If the person you care for has a lung condition, there may be times when breathing is a challenge. Start by noticing patterns: is there a time of day, type of activity, or emotional state that triggers the difficulty? Is the person sitting, lying, or standing? Consider these options:

Home environment

  • Remove dust and replace furnace filters frequently.
  • Eliminate or reduce strong odors. Bleach, paint, perfume. They all exude chemical particles that can irritate the lungs.
  • Raise the head of the bed. Lying flat makes it harder for some people to breathe.
  • Institute a No Smoking policy. No secondhand smoke in the house. And, of course, the patient should not smoke.

Quick tips

  • Find a better position. Sometimes it helps to sit up straight or brace elbows on a solid surface, such as the arms of a chair or a table.
  • Turn on a fan or open a window.
  • Add moisture. Consider a humidifier.
  • Pace yourself. Plan the day so there are few activities, and time to rest in between. Even something as mundane as a shower counts as an activity. Anything that is tiring.

Stress reduction

  • Guided imagery or deep-breathing exercises. These strategies can calm the anxiety that comes with not enough oxygen.
  • Slow, focused breathing. Breathing slowly through pursed lips helps some. Counting to extend an exhale helps others.

Talk with the doctor

If these strategies don’t ease the difficulty, talk to the doctor. There are medications that can open the airways. There are also specific breathing exercises. Does your loved one like to sing? Believe it or not, joining a singing group might help. Or ask the doctor if there’s a “Second Wind” or “Better Breathers Club.” These support groups help people get appropriate exercise and provide opportunities to share tips about living with breathing limitations.

Want help managing symptoms?

At Senior Life Management we can help you get the right mix of medicines, therapy, and changes in the home so that breathing becomes much easier. As the Orange County experts in aging well, we know the local resources and can come to the home and help you identify unnecessary lung irritants. If breathing is a problem, give us a call at 949-716-1266. There are ways to ease “air hunger” and the anxiety that comes with it.