Studies have shown that 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and 20-30 minutes of strength training exercise three to five days a week can reduce shortness of breath, improve physical strength/stamina, improve participation in other activities, and improve sense of well being, reduce shortness of breath exacerbations, and reduce hospitalizations related to respiratory health. Not only is exercise beneficial for good respiratory health and physical conditioning, it also has been shown in many studies to reduce feelings of depression.
If you don’t see yourself becoming a gym rat, consider a simple walking program of 30-60 minutes a day, three to five days a week. If you live in an area with snow and ice covered outdoor walkways, try walking at your local indoor mall or on a treadmill. If you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of snow or ice, it is ideal to walk outdoors to gain the additional benefit of exposure to direct sunlight. Whether indoors or outdoors, seek flat surfaces and walking courses/equipment with adequate handrail support if you suffer from poor balance. You might even consider Nordic Walking (walking with ski-pole-like devices).
Alternatively, consider joining a tai chi or yoga class. These mediation-based forms of exercise convey health benefits for people of all levels of physical conditioning, including those who suffer from chronic shortness of breath. If you’re stuck indoors all winter, these classes are also a great way to get out, move around and socialize with others. Many health clubs and community centers offer tai chi and yoga classes specifically designed for people with limited mobility or other health conditions.
If you can’t or don’t want to attend a center-based tai chi or yoga class, consider buying a tai chi or yoga DVD to use at home. These videos offer step-by-step instructions, and many are geared toward people with limited mobility or other health conditions.
3. Delay Your First Cigarette of the Day
While the value of smoking cessation during winter months is particularly high given the increased exposure to smoke in confined indoor spaces, we understand the prospect of quitting may feel like too much of a challenge for some. For those who can’t or won’t stop smoking, consider delaying your first cigarette of the day for 30-60 minutes after you wake. Research studies have shown that smokers who light up their first cigarette within the first five minutes of waking have the highest level of depression among all smokers, while those who delay for at least 30 minutes after waking have the lowest depression among smokers.
4. Consider Electric or Natural Gas Heat
If your primary heating and/or cooking source is a wood-burning stove or fireplace, seriously consider replacing these options with electric or natural gas burning devices. Previous studies have shown that regular exposure to wood smoke can be as detrimental to respiratory health as cigarette smoke, and if you are exposed regularly to both, your chances of serious respiratory health issues are dramatically increased.
In our opinion, you can significantly improve your chances of better breathing during the winter season by following the above steps. The combination of increased vitamin D consumption, regular exercise/physical activity, and reduced exposure to cigarette and wood smoke can make a world of difference for anyone who suffers from chronic shortness of breath.