Breathing In and Out with COPD

COPD, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living, Power to the Patient
on March 15, 2012

Not long after being diagnosed with emphysema, one of a group of diseases now collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Bill Mayhall was sitting in a pulmonologist’s waiting room. And he didn’t like what he saw: pale, frail and serious-looking patients.

One-on-one with the doctor, Bill asked if that’s what he could expect as his condition worsened. “I will always remember what he said in response,” Bill says. “’Keep exercising, to the maximum of your ability, using your oxygen, of course, which you must turn up to ‘high.’ This will keep you going for many years, and keep you from looking and feeling the way you described the other patients.’”

Seventeen years later, Bill continues to take that advice to heart. Though he’s had to give up some of the exercises he enjoyed in his youth—like running and judo, in which he earned a black belt—he has made a commitment to keep moving. Now 79, he spends 15-20 minutes a day gently exercising on his stationary bike or treadmill.

“I use a fairly slow pace, but use what I call ‘forced breathing.’ With each breath, take a breath inward, followed by three quick puffs outward,” he says. “This forces the mucus that has gathered out of my lungs. Very effective! And the rhythmic breathing pattern it creates doesn’t tire you.”

RELATED: Steps to Manage COPD

A retired psychologist, Bill has also made mental exercise a priority. He spends at least an hour a day meditating, doing other breathing exercises and focusing on spiritual health. “I live a much calmer life,” he says.

That pulmonologist who treated him early on was crucial in helping Bill frame his condition as something he could live with for years. “He told me, in effect, to get out there and live my life. I loved his approach—it’s given me many more years of active living!” he says. These days, his current doctor and Bill’s wife, Trudy, both mirror that positive attitude, and offer encouragement when he needs it.

Bill enjoys communicating with other COPD patients, and is always eager to share what he’s learned with anyone struggling with their diagnosis. “Hang in there! It’s an exciting adventure—if you look at it that way—in finding new things that help,” he says. “I do not see myself as a ‘sick person’ but rather a person with some conditions that I must deal with daily in order to enjoy life to the fullest.”