Let me hear your body talk . . .
There are four stages of Copd, four steps down which each of must eventually go. How long we stay on each step will depend on some things out of our control, but I can promise you one thing, you will live a longer, happier life if you exercise. And if you sing.
From my vantage point on step 4, I can tell you something about the view ahead. It is hidden in cloud because until we step off the fourth stair, none of us will know what is over there.
As one doctor told me, living with end stage Copd is like living in the thin air at the base camp of Mt Everest. But I distract myself from my laboured breathing with the beauty of the views. I take this climb slowly, but I take it.
In my old life I was very active: long distance running, sports, dancing. That was the ‘old normal’.
The ‘new normal’ is that I have to settle for far, far less. I lose what I gain, quickly.
I am a graduate of several Pulmonary Rehabs and it’s fair to say I owe my quality of life to the Chronic & Complex Team at the Shoalhaven District Hospital, who drilled into me the importance of exercise.
We country folk don’t mince our words. So in the hospital gym, behind the spin bike, stands the guy we call our personal trainer: A skeleton.
The chief exercise physiotherapist, Margaret, warns you can lose all of your fitness in just three days. So a flare up that puts us flat on our backs, also robs us of the fitness we have banked. It’s down to zero, as Joan Armatrading sang.
Exercise changes that. The more conditioned your muscles, the easier daily activities become. The easier they are, the more independent you can stay.
With Copd, the less you do, the less you’re able to do. Weak muscles need more oxygen, so you can become short of breath just shopping or cooking or talking.
Savvy Copd survivor Vanessa Smith, who lives in Cornwall in the UK, just turned 60. There was a time she thought she wouldn’t make it. Vanessa, who has severe disease, shares the secret of climbing 30 steps to her celebratory birthday dinner: http://copdinfocus.blogspot.co.uk/
I am a foodie with a big herb garden, so when I was told by a dietitian that dried parsley might be the way to go, to save myself from getting puffy chopping up the fresh stuff, I drew a line in the sand.
I swore a blood oath the day would never dawn when I would use parsley flakes because of my breathlessness. I will hand grind my peppercorns and curry spices, I will stir my risotto, I will knead my bread and pizza dough, I will chop and slice and dice and grate for as long as I can.
So that’s my motivation for exercising. Dried parsley!
Yours might be the garden, doing the karma sutra, slow dancing with nose-hose, woodworking, bush-walking, travelling, playing with your grandchildren, or taking the dog for a walk.
Find the thing you love and put the pedal to the metal. No excuses. Six days a week. Rest on the seventh. You can, and will, be better than you are. And when you get knocked down, as Chambawamba says, you get up again.
It’s all in the mind. So to shore up my efforts at making exercise as natural as eating and sleeping, I have turned to the ‘people’ s philospher’ Alain de Botton for advice on getting past being weak-willed.
Alain says our troubles cannot really be blamed on ignorance. We know what we should do. Only we don’t do it.
“Classically, this is the problem known by the Ancient Greeks as ‘akrasia’ – or ‘weakness of will’. We go wrong not so much because we don’t know, but because we lack the motivation to act on our best insights. So we need constant help in bolstering and reinforcing the wiser moments.”
He says there are numerous tactics for providing this assistance.
“For a start, it helps to hear another person say what we already kind of know; it gives the belief extra weight. It enhances our trust and makes us feel a little less alone. We aren’t looking for revelation, we’re looking for corroboration.”
Also, hearing truths put in elegant language or images is beneficial. Wisdom sticks better in the mind when conveyed with the sensuous force of art – in a picture, a poem, or a song . . .
All things are possible.
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