Have a chronic cough? Difficulty breathing with minimal amounts of exertion? These and other symptoms could be diagnosed by your doctor as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD. It goes without saying that the diagnosis of COPD is obviously bad news. The good news is that with the right positive mindset, tools and for a very low budget you can help ease the effects of COPD. Read on to find out more about COPD, how it effects the body and what you can do to help yourself!
What is COPD?
COPD is a group of diseases that inhibit airway function, greatly impacting quality of life and level of function. COPD is currently the third leading cause of death in the US (following heart disease and cancer) and costs over $40 billion dollars annually in direct and indirect costs. The two most common diseases associated with COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
How does COPD affect lung function?
First let’s look get a basic understanding of how our lungs work. The job of our pulmonary system is to take the oxygen out of the air we breathe in and deliver it to our bodies’ tissues to be used for everyday function and operation. This demand increases as activity level increases. Once our body has used the oxygen, it is removed in the form of carbon dioxide which we exhale. Inside our lungs (which are like balloons that can inflate and deflate) are what looks like upside down trees. It’s in the “tree trunks” and “branches” that we see the effects of COPD.
Chronic Bronchitis is a result of increased mucous production in a main branch of the lungs (in the trees inside the balloons) called the bronchioles. This increase in mucous makes it very difficult for the body to take the oxygen in from the outside environment and disperse it to tissue. People with Chronic Bronchitis have a significant cough and often have mucous expelled in their cough.
Emphysema works further on the tree branches in little air sacs called aveoli. Imagine the aveoli like a bunch of little balloons tied together (ie: buds on a tree), expanding and contracting with each breath. With Emphysema, these balloons lose their ability to contract with exhaling and even some of the inner walls become damaged or destroyed. Someone who has Emphysema can get oxygen into their body but have great difficulty getting the waste products out because of the limited flexibility of the aveoli. Shortness of breath is common because they cannot take a deep enough breath. Significant cough is also associated with Emphysema.
What causes COPD?
The main leading causes of COPD are cigarette smoking and environmental pollutants, such as smog, that irritate and inflame pulmonary (lung) tissue and cause responses in the body that over time lead to disease. There are genetic components that can predispose an individual to having COPD, but are less common.
What can you do about it?
COPD is progressive and its effects are irreversible, so early diagnosis is key for symptom management and slowing the advancement of the disease. Exercise plays a very major role in living with COPD, which we will cover later on.
SO, how does exercise help?
Exercise, particularly for those diagnosed with COPD, helps the body maintain and promote lung function much like we work a muscle to make it stronger.
What types of exercise?
Breathing exercises may be initiated to aid in the delivery of oxygen to the body.
Aquatic exercise has proven effective at promoting level of fitness in those with COPD since the demands can be less on the body than when out of the water. Also, the more humid environment of a pool makes breathing slightly easier than a drier climate such as outdoors on a cold day.
Aerobic activities like walking, cycling, etc.
Resistance training has also proven beneficial for individuals with COPD.
How much exercise is needed?
For those with COPD who are not accustomed to exercise, starting at lighter intensities 2-3 days per week may work best, eventually aiming for 3-5 days of activity for aerobic-type work (ie: walking, aquatic workouts or cycling).
Gradually increase the time or duration you can exercise as tolerated.
Additionally, intermittent exercise may be another alternative to promote exercise tolerance –performing light to moderate to even vigorous intensity exercise for only a few minutes followed by a rest.
There you have it! You may not be able to get rid of COPD but you certainly can do something about it. Get started today, move, make it a habit. We’re here to help!
Disclaimer: As always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net