It is common misconception that your body just “fails” as you age. We do understand the nature of human physiology-systems don’t perform at their peak as bodies get older. However, you need not simply accept the status quo. There may be activities you can do to maximize your abilities and slow health decline; plus, improved lung function will provide you energy to add (or increase) exercise to your schedule. Exercise has shown to improve feelings of happiness and fulfillment.
Breathing Issues with Aging
A common issue with older adults is dyspnea. Dyspnea is, simply put, difficult or labored breathing. It can be a sign of serious (chronic) disease of the lungs, airway, or even the heart. Sudden onset of dyspnea should not be ignored, but general shortness of breath is often accepted as a symptom of “just getting older.”
Several conditions can cause dyspnea:
- Heart attack or failure
- Pericardial effusion
- Pneumonia, asthma or bronchitis
- Anxiety or panic attacks
Grades of Dyspnea
There are several grades of dyspnea severity, ranging from only seen during exhausting activities, to being experienced with only minimal activity. Since it is often felt when there is an underlying condition, it is not uncommon for patients to avoid physical activity, thus contributing to the ailment.
The Cycle of Inactivity
Older adults who experience dyspnea have the tendency to avoid activity due to an innate fear of “making it worse.” This lack of physical activity exacerbates the problem by preventing the improvement of physical and respiratory strength, thus creating a vicious cycle. Exercise is an important competent of most all health-related intervention programs, though the limited ability of many older individuals to do so brings an added complication.
One aspect of breathlessness is the weakness found in the respiratory muscles. These are comprised of the diaphragm and intercostals. By strengthening this support group of the lungs, both inspiratory and exhalatory improvements can be made. There is also the additional benefit of increased core strength.
Benefit Found in Respiratory Muscle Training
Respiratory muscle training can improve the symptoms of dyspnea. A study performed by Earlham College Department of Biology looked at respiratory muscle training with the PowerLung on residents at a retirement community who suffered from breathlessness. The results are available for download HERE. Ventilatory capacity was found to be increased in this study, and supports the use of respiratory muscle training in older adults.