What is COPD?

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of progressive diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing related diseases. Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and sometimes asthma are included in this group. 64 million people worldwide and 15.7 million people in the United States have COPD. There are 3 million new cases diagnosed each year with women being diagnosed with chronic bronchitis twice as often as men. The incidence of COPD in women is on the rise, but on the decline in men. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Tobacco smoke is the #1 cause of COPD but is also caused by air pollutants, especially chemical pollutants in the home and workplace. Genetics and respiratory infections can also contributing factors. Medical treatment can help manage symptoms, but there is no cure. Exercise can help improve physical strength and endurance but cannot reverse damage. Inactivity can actually exacerbate shortness of breath.

COPD leads to activity limitations such as difficulty walking and climbing stairs. Of those affected by COPD 51% report limited ability to perform work related tasks as well as increased confusion and memory loss. Many report fair or poor health status and often have other chronic conditions such as arthritis, congestive heart failure or diabetes. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing and coughing producing mucus, phlegm and sometimes blood. Tightness in the chest is also a common complaint.

A careful and thorough evaluation by physician for accurate diagnosis is needed. Effective treatment can alleviate severity, decrease frequency of symptoms and slow the progression of this disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation can be very beneficial. Learning breathing exercises and strategies for dealing with your symptoms can help you better control your symptoms. An exercise program focusing on strength and muscular endurance is beneficial as well.

Pilates is a low impact exercise program that focuses on core strengthening, breathing and quality movement. The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is a local stabilizer for the lumbar spine but it is also a muscle of respiration. When we exhale through pursed lips it activates transverse abdominis which strengthens the core but it also forces us to exhale more completely. When we exhale more efficiently we can inhale more completely providing more oxygen to our heart, other muscles and organs. It also helps to strengthen our diaphragm and improve lung capacity. By focusing on the quality of each inhale and exhale, we learn to control our breath and can use this when we find our symptoms exacerbating enabling us to better control our breathing. There are multiple pieces of equipment in the Pilates studio that can be used to strengthen periphery muscles as well. For this reason Pilates can be an integral part of rehabilitation for someone suffering with COPD. Exercise will improve overall strength and endurance as well as strengthen the muscles you use to breath. Exercise improves circulation and helps the body better use oxygen. It builds energy levels so you can do more without becoming tired or short of breath. It strengthens your heart and cardio vascular system. It lowers blood pressure and increases your stamina. Talk to your health care provider about including Pilates in your rehabilitation program and start seeing the benefits of Pilates for yourself.