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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

The Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease: COPD

GettyImages-1140574879In my last blog, Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease, I discussed how exercise may help individuals with a major chronic disease. In this blog, I discuss COPD and how exercise can improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected. COPD is an acronym for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is an umbrella term defined by the CDC as, “a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.” This is in contrast to some other pulmonary disorders that restrict lung expansion.

COPD is a global disease, but due to underreporting it is often overlooked. In developed countries it is often associated with smoking; however, its prevalence in many developing countries can be linked to outdoor, occupational, and indoor air pollution. Common symptoms include

  • Shortness of breath at rest or with mild exertion
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Excess sputum production

Diagnosis and Treatment

Unlike many other health conditions, COPD is not diagnosed by a single test. Physicians often use a combination of medical history, imaging, and special breathing tests called pulmonary function tests to determine a diagnosis. Lower pulmonary function test scores indicate increased severity of COPD. Home treatment often includes medications such as bronchodilators, mucolytics, or supplemental oxygen. If you have COPD and plan on exercising, I recommend gathering your treatment information for your trainer so that they can determine any contraindications to exercise.

Counteracting the Downward Spiral

Because physical activity makes them short of breath, many individuals with COPD abstain from exercise. This sedentary behavior leads to increased health risks. Their heart becomes weaker, blood vessels are less flexible and more likely to rupture, and muscles atrophy from the lack of use. These physiological changes make it harder to perform physical activity and accelerate the downward spiral many people with this condition face. Because it is an irreversible disease, COPD cannot be cured with exercise. However, exercise can drastically improve the quality of life people experience.

How Exercise Helps People with COPD

The 2019 Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) Report states that exercise training can increase physical activity levels outside of the gym in COPD patients. It recommends that they participate in multiple brief bouts of high-intensity work. By doing so, these individuals can stress their cardiovascular system without putting it over the edge. Over time individuals with COPD experience similar cardiorespiratory adaptations to healthy populations, including

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased resting heart rate
  • Increased blood flow to peripheral tissues
  • Improved heart function

Resistance training also enables this population to complete activities of daily living more readily by increasing strength and muscular endurance. However, research shows that strength training does not improve their health status. A specific type of resistance training called inspiratory muscle training has been shown to increase the strength of inspiratory muscles, allowing individuals to take deeper breaths. Flexibility training is also believed to improve posture to allow for easier breathing, but no studies have specifically looked at this area.

NIFS Can Help

If you or somebody you know has COPD but doesn’t know where to start, speak with your physician about starting an exercise program. If cleared, come to NIFS, where we have trainers who are educated and certified to work with special populations. The Healthy Lifestyle Program is specifically designed to work with populations who need adaptations to exercise. If you are interested in joining the Healthy Lifestyle Program, stop on by and ask us what we can do for you!

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This blog was written by Brandon Wind, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise NIFS programs resistance flexibility cardiopulmonary chronic disease COPD

You’re Not Finished Yet: Action List to Create Real Fitness Change

FFA2017.jpgBack on March 4 I participated in my fourth Fight for Air Climb (check out the NIFS team results here, too!) with a band of NIFS warriors. If you don’t know much about the climb, to put it simply, you race up the tallest building in Indy, the Salesforce Tower in downtown Indianapolis—forty-seven flights of stairs to the top with a 360-degree view of our great city waiting for you at the finish. It’s a great event for raising awareness and funds for the fight against lung cancer and other cardiopulmonary conditions.

I raced to the top five times this year in under an hour, and I am rather proud of how I did. But very few people know that the day before the climb I was in a hospital room visiting my mother, who is suffering from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). She has battled CHF for a long time now, and this was not her first time being admitted for symptoms involved with CHF. It doesn’t get any easier to walk through those hospital hallways to go see her.

A Call to Action

Now before we go any further, you need to be aware that this is not meant to be a “touchy-feely” kind of piece or a promotion for the FFA event. This is a “finger-pointing,” call-to-action kind of piece for those of us who participate in some type of physical event in support of some cause, and failing to further the effort to create real change. Quite simply, participating in an event and drinking a bunch of beer afterward is not enough to help those you claim to be supporting.

I think someone’s willingness to give up a Saturday and put their body through some fitness-related act is noble and a decent start, but it can’t end there. I see it far too often: run a 5K, walk for diabetes, climb for lung cancer, snap a few photos for Facebook or Instagram, drink a few complimentary beverages (usually the wheat and barley variety), and after the event is over the effort stops. This will not inspire real change; it may make you feel better about yourself, but the completion of the event itself will not create much impact to those in true need of your help.

Actions to Take After the Event to Create Real Change

Once again, this is a call to action to make an actual change and not simply pride yourself on supporting a cause. I challenge you that you are not done once you cross that finish line, and you have to do more both for the large-scale efforts, and just as important, the efforts that hit close to home.

  1. Be brave and reach out to show someone you care, and start the process of change by providing information on mindset and readiness for change.
  2. Emphasize small steps at a time to create real change; small steps add up to big change.
  3. Get them moving; a casual walk can be all it takes to create change.
  4. Educate someone about nutrition and how to replace the mac and cheese and fried foods with grilled parsnips and carrots, and a green salad.
  5. Be a good example and practice what you preach
  6. Continually show somebody that you are proud of the steps they are taking toward change; “I’m proud of you” are very powerful words.
  7. Donate to the cause you support; maybe instead of the daily venti mocha macchiato, save the nine dollars and make a monthly contribution.
  8. Volunteer your time and help out during events, or spend time with those individuals; don’t wait until next year’s event to be active in the cause.
  9. Fundraise for your cause. Start knocking on some doors and spread the word about your cause and get others to donate or join.
  10. Form a Facebook support group and share information on how to create change.

I provided just 10 actions you can take. I’m sure there are many more. Understand that simply running an event does not make you an ultimate catalyst for making changes. If you want to help someone, you have to put in the legwork that has to far exceed the 5K you completed on a Saturday for the free beer and t-shirt at the end. I wish I would have done more for my mother and maybe she wouldn't be in a hospital bed. This is your call to action, and mine! It's not too late, but don't wait until it is!

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness challenge making changes cardiopulmonary