Pulmonary Rehabilitation Part 1 – Be wise and exercise

Article provided by Dr John Blakey and Respiratory Physiotherapist Sarah Hug from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

Being diagnosed with a lung condition can be a difficult experience. Sometimes people feel they are not given enough information, and sometimes they are provided with so much at once it can be hard to take it all in. Your doctor will often suggest things that are good for everyone with lung disease such as:

  • Stop smoking,
  • Have a good inhaler technique,
  • Keep active.

By the time you have your test results and medicines, you may be wondering what your doctor had said about being active, how and why it is so important, and what that even means.

In this article, Sarah Hug (Physiotherapy) and John Blakey (Respiratory Medicine) from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital provide more information on this important topic.

What does “Keeping Active” really mean?

You may think that you are ‘already active enough’ by doing your house cleaning, shopping and gardening. Or you may feel that you are too breathless to “be active”. So, what are we asking you to do?

Firstly, it means minimising your sedentary behaviour.

Being sedentary refers to sitting and lying down. While we may consider ourselves to be busy, it may be while we are sitting in the car, at a desk or in meetings at work, then with friends in the evening, or often in front of the TV. A visit to the gym doesn’t cancel this out, with regular movement being better than the occasional quick burst. Sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor for several illnesses like heart attacks and diabetes.

Everyone should limit their time spent sitting or lying down during the day, especially people with chronic lung conditions. Avoid sitting for long periods of time and get up to do something for a few minutes on a regular basis. For example, if you do sit down to watch the telly, make sure you stand and move around in each ad break. Think about ways of breaking up your sedentary time throughout your day such as meeting friends for a walk rather than sitting for a coffee, using a standing desk at work, or going to see a neighbour or colleague rather than sending them a message.

It also means increasing your physical activity levels.

The World Health Organisation recommends adults, including older adults and those with chronic conditions, undertake regular physical activity. Many people are often surprised by how much exercise is actually recommended.

An average person should undertake moderate-intensity activities for 2.5 to 5 hours per week. Moderate intensity means being short of breath but able to hold a conversation. It is also recommended to undertake muscle strengthening exercises on at least two days each week.

That might sound like a lot, especially if you have a chronic lung disease but then it is even more important for you. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once, you certainly don’t need to be wearing lycra, and you don’t need to do it on your own. Here are some tips for increasing your physical activity:

  1. Create small manageable chunks of exercise. There are plenty of opportunities each day for taking a five-minute walk, such as parking a little further from the shops or work.
  2. Sign up! If you join a club, social group, gym you are more likely to regularly attend and exercise. These offer great ways to keep active while also meeting new people. You might also want to sign up for a sponsored walk so you have something to work towards.
  3. Plan exercise into your day. Look at ways you can fit it into your daily routine, such as arriving a little early to an appointment to give yourself time to walk in from the carpark or take the stairs rather than taking the lift. If you are worried about trying to travel several stories in a building, take the lift to one floor below your destination and then take the stairs from there.
  4. Involve friends and family. If you have a buddy, and you encourage each other, you are more likely to succeed together, and it’s also nice to have someone to share the fun with.
  5. Pace yourself! You don’t have to do it all at once. Plan it out, look for ways to build activity into your day in bite-size pieces. Pacing yourself will also help manage your breathlessness too.
  6. Remember the carrot as well as the stick. Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t exercise yesterday, there is always tomorrow! And remember to reward yourself when you do hit your goals and acknowledge your efforts in keeping more active.

Most importantly doing something is better than doing nothing. There will be times when you are very busy or feel under the weather and doing exercise seems unachievable. Doing a few minutes of something gentle on those days helps and adds up in the long-term.

Stay tuned for our next article, where we discuss Pulmonary Rehabilitation – a program specific to people with chronic lung conditions, and why it is so important for you.

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