Help! I Can't Get a Good Breath!
Last updated: July 2018
I recently saw a question raised by a lung cancer survivor who was experiencing difficulty breathing after radiation treatments. She wanted to know what tips we had that could help her improve her breathing.
I am very fortunate because I have not personally experienced many breathing issues. So, I put Dr. Google to work in order to try to answer her question.
Staying active helped me
After reading some of the solutions, which I will discuss below, I think I might know some reasons why I haven't had a lot of problem with my breathing. One is that I have been lucky, very lucky. But another just might be that I have stayed very active throughout my cancer journey.
Until fatigue and lack of stamina set in after radiation, I ran my dogs regularly in agility. The sport requires a lot of sprinting. Additionally, we often have to lug sometimes-heavy equipment all around the field. On days when I wasn't playing agility, I usually walked my dogs about three miles at a quick pace. In short, I was getting a good deal of quality exercise.
Exercise and oxygen flow
While doing my research, I learned that exercise is a great way to improve your shortness of breath (also called dyspnea). Stretching your muscles helps increase the flow of oxygen to your blood. Therefore, experts say it is especially important to exercise your legs because that's where one of your largest muscles is, the thigh muscle.
Please don't tune me out because I started talking about exercise! I know it is not always a pleasant thought, but it is very, very important in our battle against lung cancer. Not only does it have the potential of improving shortness of breath, it can help alleviate the fatigue so many of us feel from treatments.
Making exercise a social event
I have been going to the local community center two or three times a week. It only costs $10 a year to be a member and it has an adequate gym with treadmills, ellipticals, bicycles, and weight machines. Since I have been going for a few months, I have begun to make friends with other regulars. Now, going is not only something I need to do for my health, it is also a social event.
I admit that I started going to the gym solely because I wanted to lose some of the weight I have packed on since I started treatments over five years ago. I have been at it for over four months and I am sad to say that I have not lost much weight at all yet. Hope springs eternal. I keep thinking that surely one of these days I will wake up to a smaller belly!
But, even though I haven't accomplished my weight-loss goal, I feel much better. My blood pressure is better. And, I have more energy.
East, at-home exercises
Not everyone can go to a gym to work out. And, that's okay. During my research, I came across some videos that I want to share with you. They were done by Donna Wilson RN, MSN, RRT/Personal Trainer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Integrative Medicine Center, New York City. The exercises she shows are easily and quickly accomplished at home and all are specifically designed to improve lung function. I plan to start doing them on the days I do not make it to the gym.
- Lung Exercises: Strong Legs Support Lungs In just 10 minutes - Wilson shows us how to do leg lifts and chair squats and several different stretches that are all designed to increase the flow of oxygen to your blood.
- Lung Exercises: Open Chest Expands Lungs - This 9+ minute video takes us through 10 different chair exercises that help strengthen our upper body and core.
- Lung Exercises: Jumping Lungs - In about 11-1/2 minutes, Wilson goes through several exercises that will increase our breathing capacity.
Has exercise helped you?
Do you think you'll try these exercises for a week or two? See how you feel. And, come back and let us know how they worked for you!
What healthy habits do you use to improve the quality of your life?