Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that affects every part of a patient’s life because it makes breathing difficult during daily activities.
COPD includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Common symptoms include a persistent cough with mucus and shortness of breath.1 For the 12 million people diagnosed each year in the US, COPD can make it difficult to exercise, work, or even have a conversation.2
Veterans with COPD should be looking to you for therapy and rehabilitation to gain back strength in their lungs and their bodies, and there are plenty of ways you can help.
Lifestyle Changes for Patients with COPD
There are some major lifestyle changes that can significantly improve symptoms of COPD. Smoking is not only the number one cause of COPD, but it can also continue agitating symptoms like shortness of breath. Quitting smoking is the best thing a patient can do to counter the effects of COPD. Avoiding areas where other people are smoking is also good practice to avoid the effects of secondhand smoke.
A dietitian may also recommend a strategic eating plan. This could entail eating smaller portions of more meals throughout the day. Supplements are also a common route to ensure Vets receive their needed nutrients.
Another lifestyle change sure to improve the effects of COPD is exercise. It may be difficult for Veterans to begin incorporating exercise into their daily life, but it will become easier with dedication and persistence.
There are certain muscle areas and groups that can be especially beneficial for Veterans with COPD to exercise (more on that will be covered below), but any type of exercise that the patient is able to do safely can help manage COPD symptoms.
Exercises to Help Manage COPD Symptoms
Strengthening breathing muscles will obviously improve a Veteran’s ability to breathe during their day-to-day life. On top of that, it will also improve their ability to complete other helpful exercises, making this a very dynamic and important activity.
Respiratory Muscle Trainers, Expiratory Muscle Strength Trainers, and Breath Builders are great devices that utilize Resistive Breathing Training in order to work your lungs and muscles used for breathing. For a supplemental exercise that may prove a bit more entertaining and stimulating, the COPD Foundation and the Academy of Country Music for individuals with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease have begun teaching Veterans harmonica lessons to help lung muscles.
2. Lower Body
Many of the most scientifically proven benefits of pulmonary rehab are from studies that include leg workouts.3 These exercises can range from walking to stair climbing.
A great alternative for Veterans with limited mobility or who want to exercise while they watch TV is the Cubii. The Cubii is a movable, whisper-quiet elliptical that allows you to stay fit while you sit.
3. Upper Body
Arm and chest exercises will make daily activities easier while also improving breathing functions. Weights and cranks are a popular choice for pulmonary rehab, but there are other tools that can also be used.
Another option for patients completing a Home Exercise Program (HEP) or for Veterans who need to work their way up to weights is a TheraBand FlexBar. A FlexBar enables 35+ different types of low impact exercises, stretches, and massages that are easy for Vets to do at home or on the go.
4. Strength Training
In addition to improving endurance during rehabilitation, strength building has been proven to be helpful for managing COPD symptoms.3 Again, weight training is a great option for Veterans who have the ability and access to equipment or belong to a gym.
For patients that do not have everyday access to weight machines and benches, the TheraBand CLX Resistance Band offers a great variety of workouts that can be done anywhere. This resistance band is specially designed with consecutive loops to grip throughout 45+ exercises. There are seven resistance levels available for patients of different abilities.
While the symptoms of COPD can be frustrating and taxing, there are ways to limit their effect on a Veteran’s life. The steps towards recovery do not mandate the most expensive pieces of equipment or the most intense programs, many times they can start with a literal step.
- COPD Health Center. (n.d.) WebMD. Retrieved from https://wb.md/2lCYPrs
- Roth, C. (2018). NIH Fact Sheets - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://bit.ly/2oAK51H
- Steinbaum, S. (2019). “What Is Pulmonary Rehab for COPD?” WebMD. https://wb.md/2nPXaDR
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