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Breathe Better September - Exercise for respiratory conditions.

This month the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand launched it's first ever 'Breath Better September', which aimed to raise awareness of respiratory conditions and asked us NZers to show our support by participating in a photo petition.

If you are one of the 700,000 NZers who live with a respiratory condition, you would have been told at some point that you need to exercise, or that keeping physically active is important for lung health.

Exercise can be beneficial for men, women and children who have respiratory conditions, including but not limited to: Asthma, COPD, Bronchiectasis, Interstitial lung disease, Cystic fibrosis, Sleep Apnoea and Pulmonary artery hypertension.

It is important to stay physically active, but what if you struggle with exercise? What if your condition flares up when you try to exercise? And what if you just don’t know what to do?

Why do you even need to exercise?

How can exercise improve your respiratory condition?

People who have respiratory conditions often become less active as a result of their symptoms. This reduction in exercise/physical activity can cause a decline in fitness and muscle strength, which can consequently make your symptoms worse.

Exercising on a regular basis (staying within a safe level) can maintain or even improve your fitness and muscular strength. This may help you to feel better and stay well, and reduce the amount of times you are admitted to hospital, and the amount of time you need to stay there.

Exercising can help you improve your breathing, clear mucus from your chest, reduce your breathlessness during daily activities, make your heart stronger and healthier, increase the amount of activities you can do in a day, improve your balance, improve your mood and make you feel more in control, assist with weight control, and improve your confidence and independence.

How do you exercise with a respiratory condition?

The types of exercise recommended is a mixture of the following:

  • Intermittent cardio such as cycling or walking where you alternate between exercising and rest periods until you can tolerate longer durations.

  • Upper and lower body resistance training and core exercises to improve overall muscle strength.

  • Flexibility exercises – particularly around your neck, chest and thoracic spine – as these muscles can become tight and overused when you have trouble breathing.

  • Breathing training – this can help you breath more efficiently and increase the strength and endurance of your respiratory muscles, helping you to breathe easier.

The best time of the day for people with asthma and COPD to exercise is mid-morning. It is also important to exercise in the right environment. Exercising indoors in a humidity controlled environment (such as a gym or exercise clinic) may reduce the risk of associated symptoms.

Particularly, for those who experience exercise induced asthma (EIA) it is important to exercise in the right environment during winter, when the air is cold. Exercising in cold dry air can cause an increase constriction or the airways, causing an asthma attack. To prevent this, it is important to incorporate a long, slow warm up into your exercise routine, and make sure the intensity of your exercise is set at the right level to avoid triggering symptoms.

What if I need help? – Consult a Clinical Exercise Physiologist.

It is recommended that those living with a lung condition consult an appropriately trained health professional such as a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP). They will be able to tailor your exercise programme to your lung condition and current health status.

Clinical exercise physiologists are postgraduate-trained allied health professionals who specialise in the delivery of exercise, lifestyle and behavioural modification programmes for the prevention, management and rehabilitation of chronic conditions and diseases, and injuries. Their post graduate training requires them to complete 600+ clinical hours working with individuals with a wide range of chronic health conditions.

Individualised respiratory exercise rehabilitation programmes that are tailored to your health status and supported by a clinical exercise physiologist has been shown to improve symptoms, improve quality of live and reduce hospital admissions.

The exercise rehabilitation programmes delivered by CEPs can be home-based (if you struggle leaving your house), at an exercise rehabilitation/physiology clinic, or community based.

There needs to be more support and encouragement for people with respiratory conditions to begin an exercise programme, in an environment that is safe and gives them confidence.

If you would like to find out more about how exercise can help improve your respiratory condition, or you would like a consult with a clinical exercise physiologist, please contact us for more information.

Show your support for people living with respiratory conditions here.

Written by Kylie Chapman Clinical Exercise Physiologist Respiratory Exercise Specialist

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