“If I don’t push myself a little, I know I would just sit on the couch and a vicious cycle would ensue.”
“This month the Boston Marathon took place. A culmination of months of training, countless half marathons and other qualifiers all leading to a two- to three-hour, 26-mile race through eight cities in Massachusetts. Even if I could run, none of that sounds appealing to me. But wouldn’t it be nice to at least walk the streets of Manhattan or take a few subway rides without dreading the stairs at the end or the distance to the safety of home and our O2 machines?
“Just as those marathoners put in the time and effort to get to the finish line, so must we pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) patients put in the work to strengthen our own bodies. I am not naïve enough to think any of us will be sprinting to the Boston Marathon finish line anytime soon, but I am confident our bodies can surprise us with just how much they can manage.
“Re-starting a health and fitness routine after time off is challenging for anyone, especially for those of us with pulmonary hypertension (PH.) Our lungs require training to increase their functionality and need repeated exercise to retain the benefits of training. Cardio can be incredibly challenging for those suffering with this lung disease, and often it’s easier to sit on the couch or have family members carry us around than struggle to catch our breath after every short walk.
“I know from experience that exercise increases the length of these walks, shortens recovery time and generally allows me to feel better. Starting from square one every few months can be challenging and recently I haven’t been doing my usual workouts or walks. This has left me feeling more breathless and frustrated by PH than normal. This month, I’m starting my “road to health and fitness” with a gradual progression and, in six weeks, hope to feel great, and in shape, for summer.
“Cardio is one of the best exercises I find for myself to increase my breath capacity. Gradual increases in the length and intensity of cardiovascular exercises such as walking and biking can be hugely impactful. While I don’t love cardio, simply because I find it boring, I recognize the difference it makes to even the smallest tasks. I go to the gym and set myself a goal. If I don’t push myself a little, I know I would just sit on the couch and a vicious cycle would ensue. Anaerobic exercises cause you to expend more oxygen. But I often find weightlifting to be a calming exercise since it’s something I can do at my pace and weight. If I’m in the gym and really not up to cardio, I’ll grab some weights and do arm and leg exercises. I may be at the gym for longer than planned if I have to stop and catch my breath, but when I go home “feeling the burn” I actually feel like I’ve had a more successful workout. On days I have the breath I will pick upbeat music and do a variety of crunches and leg raises for the duration of the song. On “bad” days I’ll plank for as long as possible and maybe repeat this once I’ve caught my breath.
“I’m very competitive with myself. I never expect to outrun my friends, join a soul cycle gym or complete an Iron Man©, but I do push myself and set hard goals because I enjoy trying to achieve them. Everyone works differently with these constraints. At the end of the day, I just want to feel good doing every day activities and look forward to getting back to exercise that can gradually get me to the “in shape” that makes me feel good(1).”
1. Follow along with my journey on Instagram© @PHitness_fanatic. Feel free to modify for your own PH constraints.
Disclaimer: Doing any sort of exercise as a PH patient, is something that needs to be closely monitored and approved by your doctor prior to beginning any training. No exercise in this article is intended for other PH patients to follow prior to clearance from a medical professional.