It’s pulmonary rehab week!
Pulmonary rehab is awesome. Throughout my physiotherapy career, prescribing exercise has proven the most successful treatment. It has the greatest impact on patients with various different health conditions. It’s backed by outstanding evidence and is strongly recommended in clinical guidelines , particularly in chronic respiratory disease.
What is pulmonary rehab and why is it so great?
In a nutshell, pulmonary rehab is an exercise and education programme for patients with chronic lung disease. The majority of patients have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and their breathlessness impacts their everyday activities. However, patients with asthma and other lung conditions who are breathless also benefit from the classes. It’s group based exercise which provides a supportive network for patients and there’s always a sense of camaraderie about “surviving” another class.
Patients that are breathless get trapped in a viscous cycle of becoming inactive, deconditioned and consequently more breathless. I like to use the analogy of weak muscles being like driving a car with flat tyres which results needing use more petrol (aka effort and oxygen). You therefore get rubbish miles to the gallon. However, if you pump up the tyres (strengthen your muscles), you'll be more efficient and therefore less breathless.
Pulmonary rehab is all about breaking the cycle of breathlessness and inactivity. Through teaching patients how to exercise safely, it improves their confidence to be physically active.
A huge part is teaching patients that it's okay to be breathless, in fact it's meant to happen when you exercise!
It’s amazing seeing patients progress over the 8 week programme. As their cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength improves, they are able to do more, both in the classes and in everyday activities. However, I’ve found what has the greatest impact is the improvement in self confidence and energy levels. The positive change in patients is dramatic and often life changing.
That is the power of PR.
Patients are referred to pulmonary rehab through their GP or respiratory team. If you feel that you would like to be referred, discuss this with your GP.
However, if you have completed pulmonary rehab or if you have a lung condition and you want to start exercising are there other options?
If you’ve read my previous blogs, its clear I’m a BIG fan of parkrun.
parkrun is a free 5k walk, jog or run held every Saturday morning in local parks around the world. It’s an incredibly supportive community where everyone is included, no matter what your fitness level is. I really believe that parkrun could be great way to continue exercising after completing pulmonary rehab or a way to get into physical activity. It’s a great form of aerobic exercise within a supportive network.
So what are my top tips for exercising and doing parkrun with a chronic lung condition?
- Choose your course- research your local parkrun courses. Consider choosing a course with laps- if you can’t do the full 5k, that’s fine. Check out the course to look for good resting points (park benches or shaded areas).
- Say hi - drop your local parkrun a message if you’re nervous or have any questions. Perhaps volunteer as a marshall before completing your first one?
- Be prepared- take your inhaler, hand held fan and water with you.
- Treat yourself to new kit - go and buy yourself some trainers and kit you’re comfortable to exercise in.
- Warm up - Get yourself primed for the exercise ahead by increasing your heart rate and getting your muscles warm.
- Talk test- when you're exercising use the “talk test” to help gauge your effort level. If you can chat away easily you need to work harder! but if you can barely talk due to breathlessness, you probably need to slow down. Somewhere in-between is about right.
- Breathing techniques - pursed lipped breathing and focusing on breathing out will help with your breathlessness.
- Pace yourself - go at a pace you feel like you can maintain and take rests if you need it. There is always a tail volunteer, so no one ever gets left behind.
- Cool down - help return your body to its normal state by doing gentle exercise to slowly lower your heart rate.
- Stretch!- Gentle stretching exercises after exercise will reduce injury and any muscle soreness.
Before the London marathon, I had the pleasure of meeting Australia's "COPD Athlete" (Russ Winwood) who was also running the marathon. He completed it in a personal best of 5 hours and 22 minutes. He also toed the start line with Sarah and her oxygen cylinder. Sarah also has COPD and was running for the British Lung Foundation. Both Sarah and Russ are fantastic examples (although exceptional) of how exercise and pulmonary rehab can be so fantastic. So if you're looking for some inspiration, click here for Russ's story.
Exercise is life changing and the benefits are endless.
So love PR.... pulmonary rehab and parkrun!