Sixteen million Americans have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a condition characterized by shortness of breath. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common problems causing COPD.
One of the specific features of COPD is the inability to strongly or fully empty the lungs. Even at the bottom of a deep exhale, there’s extra air in your lungs that you’re just not capable of pushing out.
That’s why doctors use spirometry – measures of lung volume – as a way to monitor those with COPD. One piece of data revealed by spirometry that’s particularly relevant is FEV-1 – the amount of air you can exhale in the first second of a forceful exhale.
The limitation of usable lung volume in COPD means that breathing exercises can help you.
There are two categories of exercise I typically recommend:
- Improving the pattern of breath. You can learn to breathe in a relaxed fashion, with the ribcage freely filling and emptying both in the front, sides and back.
- Strengthening the muscles of respiration. My favorite simple exercise of this type is to practice exhaling forcefully through a straw. The narrowness of the straw creates resistance to your exhale, making your muscles work harder, just like lifting weights builds strength by forcing your muscles to work harder.
But these exercises are only the beginning. That’s because the challenge of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease goes beyond your lungs.
Like many (or most) of the conditions which are medically defined, COPD is now known to be a disease with other systemic manifestations, and in fact the severity of these other manifestations is a better predictor of your overall health than lung function alone.
Those with COPD are likely to have one or more of the following:
- decreased muscle mass
- impaired muscle function
- pulmonary hypertension
- heart failure, or
- cognitive impairment.
The emerging field of Functional Medicine studies these (and other) factors that form the underlying basis for the chronic, degenerative conditions that have such a profound impact on your overall health.
If you are grappling with COPD or any of these other medical conditions, find out if there are lab tests that can help you choose the most effective pathways for you to regain your health. Call me at 212-400-9663 or email me at [email protected] for in-depth suggestions tailored to your needs.