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Lung disease needn’t be a downer

By Aarti Patel Email By Aarti Patel
May 2015
Lung disease needn’t be a downer

Regular and careful exercise can help you stay fit and improve the quality of life.

Many of us take effortless breathing for granted, but if you’re one of those living with lung disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, or other restrictive lung disease, shortness of breath might be of huge concern and can even keep you from exercising. If you have lung disease and want to exercise, the best place to begin is with your health care provider. Your health care provider may suggest pulmonary rehabilitation where under the supervision of exercise professionals you can safely improve your cardiovascular fitness, along with strength and flexibility. Pulmonary rehab can also provide educational classes, oxygen therapy, breathing strategies, motivational and social support. Get involved in a smoking cessation program first and foremost if you are a smoker, as a lot of lung issues are due to smoking which can negatively influence cardiovascular and overall fitness.

According to the American Lung Association, there are almost 26 million Americans living with asthma—the most common lung disorder affecting both children and adults. Asthma, like other lung conditions is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing due to the constriction of the smooth muscle around the airways, a swelling of the mucosal cells, and/or increased secretion of mucous. Asthma can either be caused by an allergic reaction, certain infections, and even environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, pollution, dust, and pollen.

However, even with lung conditions such as asthma there are several types of exercises that you can still successfully perform. Cardiovascular exercise is one example. With this type of exercise it is best to keep intensity at a low to moderate level. For example, while sprinting may put a great stress on the lungs, brisk walking or slight jogging is more tolerable. Swimming in a warm pool, exercising on the elliptical, or participating in low to moderate intensity aerobic classes are all great choices. When performed on most days of the week, cardiovascular exercise can improve heart/lung function and can strengthen blood vessels, which in turn makes breathing easier.

Resistance training is equally important for maintaining strong muscles, especially those of the upper body which assist in breathing and a healthy circulatory system. Perform one exercise per major muscle group for 8-15 repetitions and 2-3 sets. Keep resistance load in the low to moderate range. Examples of some upper body strength training exercises are bicep curls, chest presses, cable or dumbbell rows, and shoulder presses. These exercises should be performed 2-3 times a week. When in doubt about which strength training exercises are best for you, always consult a fitness professional before beginning.

Stretching and flexibility exercises are also a great choice for those living with lung disease. For example, tai-chi, Pilates and yoga not only regulate breathing, but can also help manage stress and improve circulation.

Some other things to keep in mind: extend your warm-up and cool-down time keeping the exercise intensity low and then gradually increase it over a period of time. If symptoms start occurring, immediately reduce the intensity. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise. Always exercise in a controlled environment (mostly indoors) and avoid exercising in extreme conditions such as high/low temperatures, heavy pollution, and during high pollen count. These conditions can make breathing more difficult and exercising very challenging. If you are asthmatic, keep your inhaler with you at all times, and breathe in with your nose and not your mouth to keep air warm and saturated.

[Aarti Patel serves as the columnist for Fitness Lifestyle. She has a B.Sc. in Health Information Administration and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal and Group Fitness Instructor, and Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach. She can be reached at (404)-376-5655; info@aartifitness.com. This column rotates monthly along with the Ask the Doctor column by Gulshan Harjee, M.D.]

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