Use It or Lose It!

Posted on March 30, 2020   |   

This article was written by Stephanie Williams, BS, RRT and reviewed by Barbara Yawn, MD, MSc, FAAFP of the University of Minnesota


This blog post series is intended to give you ideas to help you get active and stay active – even during social distancing. The COPD Foundation wants to help you maintain your physical and emotional health during this difficult time. We decided that we would look to conversations on COPD360social to see what the community is interested in. The topic of exercise and pulmonary rehab came up again and again, and we decided to take this subject on.

Use It or Lose It

You know that old saying, "If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it."? Exercise is one of those things that you have to do frequently and routinely, or you will lose endurance and stamina. If you are a person who does regular exercise, you may be looking for things you can do at home to keep your routine going. Or you may be someone who is looking for ways to stay active and busy during the day. Either way – getting active and staying active is extremely important for your health.

Now, before we get this series started, we must remind you to get approval from your doctor or health care team before starting any new kind of exercise/activity. But once you get that approval, find something that you like to do and make a habit out of it. What kind of exercise should you do? That is a great question – let’s look at the different types of exercises.

Flexibility exercises

When you think of flexibility exercises, think of warming your muscles up and helping them be more stretched out and easier to move. One of my patients a few years ago said he starts his flexibility exercises before he even gets out of bed in the mornings. He said he takes a few minutes and tries to move every muscle for a minute before he gets up. Starting with his feet, he would wiggle his toes and feet, rotate his ankles, bend and straighten his legs, etc. until he had moved every muscle. Flexibility is important in everyday movement and helps with balance and circulation. And guess what… if you don’t use it, you lose it!

Cardiovascular exercises

These are exercises that get the heart pumping – things like walking, climbing stairs, and biking. You might think you are out of luck if you can’t get to the gym or to pulmonary rehab, but that isn’t true. There are things you can do at home to get your heart rate up and build endurance and stamina. Do you have steps in your house? You have a way to get your heart rate up – time yourself and see how long it takes you to go up and down the stairs. Can you go up and down twice or more? If you do that several times a day to start building your endurance, pretty soon you will be able to go up and down several times in a row. Remember to do your pursed lip breathing to help you control your breathing and keep your oxygen levels up. If you don’t have stairs, what about a kitchen chair? Time yourself for 30 seconds and see how many times you can stand up and sit down in that 30 second span of time. For this exercise it is best to use a kitchen chair or straight-backed chair because the firm surface is easier to get in and out of. Try it a few times a day and see if you can increase the number of times you can sit/stand in 30 seconds. If 30 seconds seems to long, you can start with 10 seconds and build up your time and the number of ups and downs.

Strength exercises

Muscle is another thing that is important to people living with COPD. It is important to keep your strength so that you can maintain balance as well as perform your activities of daily living. It isn’t necessary to have a set of weights to build strength. You can use things around your house to provide weight to build and maintain your strength. Do you have a couple of soup cans or vegetable cans that you can use as hand weights? Put them beside you when you are watching TV and do some arm exercises with them while you are watching TV. If you just do exercises during commercial breaks, you will get a couple of minutes of exercise in at a time, and a nice rest/recovery period while watching your show. You can also do leg lifts and knee lifts during the commercial break to build strength in your legs. If you want, you can add a bag of rice or dried beans on your ankles or knees to the leg lifts. Pursed lip breathing will also be important while doing strength exercises.

There is an exercise that comes to mind that really combines all three types of exercises listed here: walking. Do you have a hallway that you can walk several times, or a path inside your house that you can do ‘laps’? Even walking around the house or your apartment with a walker if you need it for 5, 10 or 15 minutes can help. Or is it possible for you to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine while getting your exercise? You can build up your endurance by adding to the time you spend walking, or the distance, or the speed you are able to walk. It is a great way to get your heart pumping and keep your activity level up.

We would love to hear from you. What kind of exercises are you doing while practicing social distancing? Do you have any tips or hints for others who may be wanting to start exercising? Let us know what you think!

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