“Coming here (to the bi-weekly rehab sessions) has helped me do exercises that help open my airways,” she added. “They teach you how to breathe, how to exercise your lungs.”
Breathing exercises, called “purse-lip breathing,” help the participants focus on how to breathe properly, inhaling oxygen through the nose and then exhaling through the mouth.
“When you get over-anxious (from not being able to catch your breath), that’s when you panic,” Baker said. “Learning to breathe properly gives you a lot of confidence.”
“You have your good days and your bad days,” Irwin added. “But now I’m not afraid to do things like go shopping.”
Victims of COPD will often revert to inactivity when suffering through difficult breathing periods. The rehab program emphasizes regular activity, including upper-body strengthening, to combat those times and improve overall respiratory function.
“It’s an evidence-based program that has shown that regular activities for people with lung disease improves their daily lives,” said Beth Ashworth, a senior respiratory therapist and COPD educator for the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.
“Regular exercise helps relieve those feelings of breathlessness and improves endurance,” she added. “A lot of people with shortness of breath are scared to move, but your muscles become de-conditioned with the less you do. It becomes more difficult to breathe with inactivity.”
The course, which is also geared toward people with cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung diseases, runs twice a week for two-hour periods each day.
The opening half-hour focuses on education, including the physiology of the lungs, medications and nutrition. Specialists in pulmonology often visit the classes to offer their support, Ashworth noted.
The rest of the time is spent on exercise programs, including the use of weights and cardiovascular equipment, much of which was purchased with support from the CVPH Foundation.