I am a man of 73 and a life-long asthmatic. After a spell in hospital with pneumonia, I find climbing stairs difficult because of breathlessness and wasted muscles. I also get slight angina if I over-exert myself. Is it safe to increase my heart rate? I do not want to waste time and effort trying to achieve the impossible.
There’s no doubt, if you give up on exercise, your physical condition will continue to worsen and you will find everyday activities becoming ever harder.
But your combination of conditions make it a real challenge for you to win back fitness and strength. You’ll need great determination, but I can assure you that if you are diligent and careful about how you exercise, the benefits will make the effort worthwhile.
I strongly advise you to get some expert supervision to help you get started safely. The asthma and angina both require you to set and monitor your exercise level precisely, which really needs an expert on hand.
Ask your GP about “exercise referral” schemes. Any of the following specialist schemes would be suitable:
- cardiac rehabilitation group
- COPD (breathing problems) class
- GP referral /exercise on prescription scheme
If your GP doesn’t know, try calling your local NHS primary care trust or the council’s leisure department to find out whether such classes run locally. Sometimes they are hospital based, in other areas they run at council leisure centres or gyms.
If there are no suitable special schemes, consider hiring a personal trainer for a couple of months. The Register of Exercise Professionals has a directory that you can search for a local trainer: be sure to look for one who has a GP Referral or Cardiac Rehab qualification.
For you, the main benefits of exercise will be to help get the best efficiency out of your lungs and hopefully reduce your angina symptoms. You should also be able to strengthen those wasted muscles and keep your joints from stiffening up. Be aware that you may well feel more exhausted at first, until your body adapts to the exercise, but within a couple of months you should be noticing some improvements.
Here’s a few more self-help suggestions:
- Do daily breathing exercises, such as pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing, to help strengthen your lungs
- Walk every day. Even if you can only manage a few minutes, do this, perhaps three times a day with good rests in between. Do not push yourself so hard that your angina pain comes on. Keep a diary, noting how long you walked for each time. Aim for 30 seconds or a minute longer the next day, so you build up very gradually. Always carry your asthma and angina reliever sprays
- Make a big effort to relax every day. Anxiety and stress add to breathing problems
- If your asthma will tolerate the atmosphere, regular walking in chest-level water at the swimming pool is a great all-round exercise. Again, check first with the GP.