Harmonicas and COPD

Harmonicas and COPD

We’re constantly encouraged to exercise despite the fact that we have difficulty doing so – with oxygen and without.

And sometimes it’s doubly discouraging because, as we all know at this point, our lungs are not going to get any better.

But!

I don’t think any of us wants them to get any worse.

And that’s the point of exercise.

Breathing

We are presented with a multitude of breathing exercises – deep breathing, pursed lip breathing, coordinated breathing, diaphragmatic breathing – just for a few examples.

We are also encouraged to take advantage of pulmonary rehabilitation if it’s available to us.

I consider myself lucky because the rehab facility I attend will let you “join” as if it were a gym when your prescription period runs out. I pay $30.00 a month out of pocket for 2 sessions a week.

I believe myself to be fortunate for that.

But truth be told – I’m also bored! I never liked gyms. Didn’t like the feel, didn’t like the effort needed to do well and didn’t like the smell!

And while I spend as much time as I can on treadmills and stationary bicycles, I find them boring and, sometimes, I use that as an internal excuse not to go.

But there are alternatives or rather supplements that are quite beneficial – and Fun! Although maybe not for others who are within earshot.

Let me explain.

Last year, I read somewhere about the benefits to someone like me with COPD of finding and using the necessary breath to play a wind instrument – “a musical instrument in which sound is produced by the vibration of air, typically by the player blowing into the instrument.”

For us, “blowing into the instrument is the key phrase.”

Trumpet, tuba, sax, and trombone were given as examples. But then, way at the end of the article, in almost negligible print was – “harmonica!”

The harmonica?

I knew I was never going to have the patience to dedicate the time necessary to learn the trumpet, for example, but harmonica? I used to play in a rock & roll band in high school (100 years ago) and I played a little harmonica (very little and not very well).

At first, being Irish, I was thinking about the bagpipes – you need to continually blow into the “chanter.” But – I love my wife and my neighbors too much.

But the suggestion of a harmonica made much more sense to me.

It’s relatively inexpensive (The Guitar Center web site has something called a “Hohner Kids Clearly Colorful Harmonica Blue.” It’s about $5 bucks and for beginners, it’s perfectly fine).

It’s something you can carry around with you in your pocket, purse or knapsack.

It’s a lot quieter than a tuba!

The benefits of learning harmonica for COPD

In a recent article, I read about the benefits to COPD patients of learning harmonica. Dr. Mark Aronica, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says he’s “not surprised that patients are finding harmonica therapy helpful. The harmonica is one of the few instruments played by both breathing in and out,” Dr. Aronica says. “So, I imagine it has some benefit in teaching breathing control, which can help reduce COPD symptoms.”1

The music therapist teaches a class of COPD patients the correct way to breathe to make notes and familiar songs. Therapists say playing harmonica exercises muscles needed to pull air in and push air out of the lungs. It also strengthens abdominal muscles for a better cough, helping patients clear the lungs. Researchers are measuring health benefits over a 12-week period.

At Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, there is a program and study called “Harmonicas for Health.” A recent television broadcast from KSAT in Dallas interviewed COPD patients who participate in the program and seem to enjoy it quite a bit. Mary Hart, Project Manager and COPD Educator is shown saying, “We are seeing significant improvement in muscle strength and the six-minute walk test. That’s how far they can walk in six minutes.”2

There are a variety of musical styles (blues, western, country) that are played on the harmonica.

If you search for “harmonica lessons” on YouTube you’ll come across a number of excellent instructors who have created videos giving terrific step-by-step lessons of learning. So, get out there and blow that “harp” (blues music slang for the harmonica). But – just don’t make the same mistake I made initially – I forgot to wait until everyone else had left the house before I started practicing!

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.
View References
  1. Orenstein BW. 4 Surprising Ways to Ease COPD. Stroke Center - EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/4-surprising-ways-ease-copd/. Published October 23, 2015. Accessed February 1, 2019.
  2. COPD: Harmonicas for Better Health? KSAT. https://www.ksat.com/health/copd-harmonicas-for-better-health. Published May 10, 2018. Accessed February 1, 2019.

Comments

View Comments (8)
  • jcprice22
    2 weeks ago

    Does anyone know if you can get just a regular harmonica rather than the kids harmonica mentioned above in the article by Kevin Davitt?

  • KevinDavitt author
    2 weeks ago

    Sure. “Hohner” is a good brand. Google it and go to Shopping to compare prices.

  • Mendo Bruce
    2 weeks ago

    Breathing and breathing exercises are fine but it is a great disservice to patients to equate breathing exercises with exercise or to suggest that they can be a substitute for the uncomfortable but necessary physical aerobic and strength exercises we need on a regular and ongoing basis.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Hi Mendo Bruce and thanks for your post. You make a good point. However, we aren’t really equating breathing exercises with physical exercise. There is a distinct difference and we do appreciate you identifying that.
    Clearly, anything that can assist with improving one’s breathing is beneficial to those with COPD. At the same time, physical activity and exercise that is tailored to the individual, can assist with developing stamina, endurance and muscle strength.
    Thanks for your input – glad to have you as a member of our online community.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • DMCD2004
    2 weeks ago

    What can I change in my lifestyle choices to avoid bloating.I have been using miralax for months?

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Great question, DMCD2004! – There are a few things you can do. One is begin to write down the foods that you’ve eaten that cause bloat. Some are obvious, but others may be unique to you. If you track it for a while, you may be able to eliminate a few things. Processed foods are often a culprit, so watch those.

    Sodium is another big one. Try to limit your sodium intake, as that can really cause bloating. Again, processed foods are usually loaded with sodium.

    In the meantime, take a look at this article: https://copd.net/q-and-a/bloating/

    Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Hi Kevin and thanks for this article. It’s a fun read besides also being informational, instructional and stimulating. But not boring!!!
    Warmly,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • KevinDavitt author
    2 weeks ago

    Thanks Leon. It was fun to write!

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