I am from New Zealand and have yet to discover any support service for people with COPD here. I was diagnosed three months ago. What led to this was lung cancer resulting in surgery, and a Lobectomy on the right side. Since starting on medication for COPD, my symptoms have become much more pronounced which is a worry. Anyway, I have enrolled at a gym near where I live and have been going three times a week for thirty minute sessions for the past eight weeks. I also go to go to Tai Chi once a week. I have yet to start regular walking but I find just plain walking much more difficult, and I get so out of breath. The enormity of what is happening to me and my culpability is still very overwhelming.
Any advice or information would be great.
—Perplexed in New Zealand
What your letter did not say was if your COPD was the result of the lung cancer treatment or was a co-morbidity of the cancer. A co-morbidity is two or more coexisting medical conditions or disease processes that are additional to an initial diagnosis. Cancer is a known co-morbidity of COPD. If the COPD is a result of decreased lung capacity as a result of surgery or cancer treatments, it is possible that it cannot be controlled or treated as effectively as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. In this case, the medications you are taking probably are just allowing the physical lung capacity you have to work more efficiently.
As far as working out at the gym, you are probably on the right path. What may be more beneficial is to consult with a respiratory therapist or a pulmonary rehabilitation center to find out what type of exercises would work best in your situation, and then continue with that program at your local gym. Staff members trained especially in pulmonary rehab can help you learn to pace yourself, perhaps one of the most important – and difficult – things you can learn. It’s common that a person does well with exercise in the gym but then has difficulty out there in the “real world.” Translating gains in the gym to making a difference in your everyday life can be accomplished through effective exercise and pacing techniques.
Exercise is as important in the treatment of COPD as the medications you take. With a proper exercise routine, you will train your muscles to work more efficiently, which will in turn allow them to work using less oxygen. The end result is that you will build your endurance and get less short of breath.
The other thing you have to watch out for is that depression, stress and anxiety can exacerbate your shortness of breath making things seem much worse. Your attitude and positive outlook are vital in your treatment of COPD. When you get out of breath, stop, relax, reset and then continue on. If you start to feel overwhelmed or depressed, speak with your doctor. There are medications and treatments that can help you!
One other thing you can do to really help is GET EDUCATED about COPD. The more you learn, the better able you will be to address symptoms and recognize warning signs of an exacerbation so you can remain stable and become ill less often. You will also learn about diet andexercise as well as many useful tips. A good source of information is our Big Fat Reference Guide.
I hope this helps, and please accept our best wishes,
The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.