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Core Strength Training For COPD - The Edge You Need Part 1

Posted Sep 12 2008 7:18pm

I am not a doctor. I do not even play one on the Internet. So, it is always with a certain amount of apprehension that I write columns such as the one you are about to read.

One of the primary functions of is to help people with COPD be as healthy as possible. Another purpose of this site is to encourage everyone to take better care of their bodies.

Some of the suggestions passed along in the pages of this web site are based on my own experiences in managing COPD for 44 years. I cannot, nor would I ever, try to tell anyone what will and will not work for them in terms of their health. All I can do is pass on my personal insights and let you, the reader, consider the merits of what I propose.

As always, I think it makes good sense to talk to your doctor before trying any exercise program or dietary suggestion you find in the pages of this site. In the end, your body is your own and you alone are responsible for its upkeep, or lack thereof. So, having said that let us consider the merits of this column in particular. My hope is that you find the information helpful in some way.

When I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis in 1964, I was but two years old. The doctors did not think my chances for survival were very good. Thankfully my parents, God Bless them, had other notions. They decided I would live.

I often wonder what led my parents to make such a decision. Surely, it must have been very tempting for them to carry me around on a pillow my entire life. They could have chosen to plan for my early demise. It would have been easy to treat me like a sickly child and expect nothing of me. Yet, they did not do that. Why? There is no reason for them to have expected me to live, other than unbridled optimism, hope, and trust.

Now, I won’t kid you. My life has not been easy. It has been a real struggle at times. But I would be remiss if I let you believe that because I have CF I therefore have a monopoly on suffering. For I most certainly do not. I just have to work very hard in order to possess the health I have. In fact, I have to work harder than most people I meet.

So far, I have been up to the challenge. God most certainly gets the praise for that. True, I have paid my dues and I continue to pay them daily. Every day is an exercise in targeted, disciplined strategies that have so far yielded great dividends throughout my life. One of the things I do is strength training, which is something I started when I was very young and which seems to have really sustained me in tough times as an adult.

Progressive resistance strength training has helped me to strengthen my bones and muscles, and I am firmly convinced that because my body is strong I have been able to weather the storms of chronic illness better than most people.

One area of my body that is in fairly good shape is my core area. By “core area” I mean my lower back, my abs, my obliques, and my diaphragm. Granted, I am no Herschel Walker, mind you. At least, not yet. But this area of my body is strong and getting stronger. I truly believe that that in order to effectively manage lung disease of any sort, you MUST have a strong core. Here’s why.

People with COPD cough. A lot. Constantly. The reason for this is because their airways are irritated and often times congested. Coughing is one of the means by which people with COPD clean their airways. However, several factors can interfere with a persons ability to efficiently clean their airways using this traditional method. Two of these factors are strength and endurance, or rather the lack of strength and endurance.

In order for any person to be able to force congestion from their airways, they need to be able to do two primary things: First, they must be able to inhale, taking air deeply into their lungs, which then gets trapped behind any congestion that is there; second, they must force the trapped air out of their lungs in such a way that the rush of exiting air pushes congestion out of the airways and into the esophagus where it can then be disposed of. Both of these physiological functions require strength, and lots of it. Sadly, many people with COPD simply do not possess strength in abundant supplies. Even more unfortunately, strength is not the only asset people with COPD struggle with.

Muscular endurance is critically important for people with COPD precisely because they cough so much. Yet, endurance is also found in limited supply for many people with COPD. As a result, for the person with COPD coughing often leads to physical and mental exhaustion. People with COPD can easily cough until they vomit, pass out, have strokes etc.

In short, here is the problem as I see it: The average person needs adequate levels of strength to maintain the health of their lungs. People with COPD lack the strength necessary in order to do that very thing. Without the necessary strength to move air from their lungs forcefully enough to clean their airways, their airways stay congested. Because the airways stay congested, people with COPD keep coughing. Because they keep coughing, the muscles involved in the coughing mechanism wear out and become so tired that the person with COPD has even less strength to manage their breathing difficulties.

I am absolutely convinced that if people with COPD were to strengthen the muscles involved in the coughing mechanism, they would find themselves better able to withstand the physically arduous task of managing COPD.

The coughing mechanism is complex. Much has been written on the subject, and I will not attempt to go into great detail in this column. However a basic understanding of some of the muscles involved in coughing would be helpful.

When we cough, several muscle groups work in concert to make the cough successful and productive. The diaphragm is used to pull air into the lungs. The following muscles are used to force the air out: The abdominal wall (from the bottom of your sternum down to your pelvis), the oblique muscles (love handle muscles), intercostal muscles (muscles between the rib bones), and the back muscles (upper, middle and lower, to varying degrees). All of these muscles are involved in creating a cough. Like any other muscles in the body, these muscles can only contract so forcefully and for so long before they begin to tire and weaken. When these muscles become exhausted, the cough becomes less and less productive.

The only logical solution, in my view, is to strengthen these muscles in an effort to create a strong body core that makes coughing more effective and productive, as well as less taxing. The next article will deal with developing a strategy for strengthening the body’s core.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 7:55 pm and is filed under COPD - Lungs and Exercise. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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