When you’re diagnosed with COPD, you’re encouraged to eat healthy, exercise, get adequate sleep and avoid triggers, such as pollen, if you have allergies.
But I did so little of this, pre-diagnosis, I’m sure it made my rehabilitation that much more difficult.
Those of us with chronic lung problems have difficulty exercising. Shortness of breath is a major limitation but sometimes muscle fatigue is an ever-greater problem.
Although exercise does not improve lung function, training helps with COPD by strengthening limb muscles. This can improve endurance and reduce breathlessness.
Exercise? Forget it!
I smoked for 25 years. I think there’s a mind-set that goes along with smoking tobacco that says, “I’m going to eat what I want, when I went to, drink what I want and sleep when I can. Oh, and exercise? Forget it!”
I was guilty of most of that except for (believe it or not) the exercise part. Over my ¼ century affair with cigarettes I played handball, paddle ball and racquet ball, mostly without feeling too winded and walked quite a bit.
I loved walking.
When my wife and I first got married I was working in lower Manhattan – New York’s City Hall to be exact – and living in Brooklyn, across the East River. There were a number of subway lines that serviced our neighborhood. 3 million people ride the New York City subways daily so, you need a number of lines to take care of all of those folks.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
One of those lines would bring you to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. If you stayed on the train for one more station, you went under the river and right to City Hall.
But I loved walking across, as the sun was rising, especially in the Fall and Winter. So, unless it was pouring, I always chose to get off a station earlier. I was in my 30’s and 40’s (I’m 64 now) and I never felt winded or tired.
So, while I didn’t belong to a gym, or go running or take exercise classes, that 25-minute walk kept me in pretty good shape. The lungs were still good then too.
I’ve also always been open to “health food.” I was a hippie – hair down to my shoulders and sometimes in a pony tail. And so, as the late 60’s and 70’s progressed, we began experimenting with foods that did not have preservatives and tried to cut out sugar and other food staples that had, at one time, been a part of everyday life.
Some friends became vegetarians and others grew their own vegetables to avoid pesticides.
I can’t say I felt any better in those years, probably because, while I was endeavoring to live a healthier lifestyle by watching what I put in my stomach, I never ceased frying my lungs with cigarette smoke.
Never even thought about quitting. In fact, most of the hippies I knew smoked cigarettes (among other things – lol).
My experience with rehab
I’ve gone to “rehab” (rehabilitation) 2 sometimes 3 times a week for the past year and a half. It’s not easy.
I spent 20 minutes on a treadmill. Then I spend another 20 minutes on a stationary bike. I also use an arm-exercising machine that can be set for different resistance levels, for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong I’m feeling. I also walk laps on a track.
Walking is the best exercise for folks like me, with emphysema. Patients should try to walk 3 or 4 times a day, every day for 5-15 minutes. I can’t say I’ve been 100% successful with this.
And, I do all of this with oxygen. And I went from 228 lbs. to 198 lbs. in 11 months.
Since the rehab facility is located within a hospital, there are plenty of assistive devices for various ailments. There is physical and occupational therapy equipment spread throughout the floor and we’re encouraged to try different items we otherwise would not normally use, all the while monitored by facility staff.
We all have difficult days, especially this past summer with high temperatures and high humidity.
But we encourage and support each other as well.
I’m just sorry it took my diagnosis to get me off my duff and to begin exercising. I’ve lost over 25 pounds in 26 months and I’m very proud of that fact.
If it’s available to you, get yourself to rehabilitation.
Different facilities have different payment arrangements. The one I attend accepted my pulmonologist’s prescription and health insurance for 3 months. After that, I paid out-of-pocket as a “community member.”
In any event, it’s the 2nd best thing I’ve done for my physical self.
Quitting smoking was #1.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.