How will I ever get my fitness back after two years of major respiratory problems?
June 29, 2007 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Can I rebuild my lung capacity? And how? In the past two years, I have gone from being a high-level aerobic athlete - one to three hours daily of bike riding or running - to doing almost nothing. The reason? Respiratory problems. It started with asthma, went on to sinus infections, then two cases of pneumonia. I've had two sinus surgeries in the past six months. The good news is I am feeling better. The bad news is that my wind is shot...

...when I do any cardio - even just a thirty minute walk - I get quite short of breath. Even worse, I feel sick for three or four days afterwards (super congested, tired.) I have been trying to keep fit during this period; I'm doing yoga for about an hour a day, four or five days a week, and other than not being able to take a deep breath, I'm handling it OK.

My questions: is this to be expected? Have I likely done permanent damage? Can I recover? How long will this go on? What can I do, over that period of time, to build my capacities back?

BTW, I am a 45-year-old male; my weight is pretty much the same as it was prior to all this.
posted by soulbarn to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a doctor, or even an expert. Unlikely but simple: Your normal cardio activities are outdoors, which may be where your asthma triggers are. Have you tried cardio indoors?

It sounds to me like the pneumonia is only almost entirely gone - that some low level infection persists in your lungs. You typically wouldn't notice that until you do cardio. I suggest talking to your doctor. (Also, AFAIK the only way to test for this is to take a sample from deep in the lungs - something else, such as a swipe from the back of the throat, would be either a placebo test or a less invasive test to look for a positive but meaningless if negative).

My not-a-doctor speculation would be that the infection in the sinus and lungs is the same, and that one of those places (or somewhere else) is the point of origin from which the other is being constantly re-infected, and that a lot of effort has been put into treating the problem where it manifests, and not enough on where it actually originates.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:42 PM on June 29, 2007

The other likely thing could be scarring from the pneumonia. I'm under the impression that this isn't always entirely permanent, but takes years to reduce. Again, I know nothing about it, just offering another idea to look into.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:55 PM on June 29, 2007

FWIW, I've had pneumonia 3 times now after my respiratory system was weakened due to pleural effusion I suffered from a bad reaction to Vioxx in 2001. So I know exactly what you're going through & how frustrating it is. One thing I did find was that last year the weather in San Francisco was too damp to clear up my pneumonia damage & heal the scarring (it had rained like 40 days straight at the time), but after traveling to Egypt and being in a dry climate a while it improved enormously. So pay attention to the weather around you... you might want to try a trip to the desert or something if you're in a humid place. Just know you're not the only person going through it.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:10 PM on June 29, 2007

Oh, one more thing that really really helped my lungs by the way is that I'm a singer. My lungs have a higher air capacity because for years I trained myself to use them, and by doing my singing exercises it's almost like I'm doing physical therapy on my respiratory system. So maybe you could try taking singing lessons...? Just a thought. You don't have to be good, but a good singing teacher might just be able to help you learn how to breathe deeply, phonate properly and in turn strengthen your lungs. Another thing that might help is a yoga class... they are GREAT to help you breathe well.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:15 PM on June 29, 2007

I've battled asthma and lung problems quite a bit. I dealt with pleurisy and a case of double pneumonia that put me into the ICU for several days.

To recover I did simple cardio exercise, walking and stationary biking. Also, I went for Chi Gung (a form of tai chi). I found the chi gung helped a lot since there is a lot of focus on your breathing in combination with the body movement.

But you are already trying similar things. Maybe it's the asthma.

Perhaps a bronchodiolator inhaler (like abuterol) might help. You would be able to measure the improvement in lung capacity with one of those measuring devices they use for asthma patients.

In my case, a couple hits from the inhaler does wonders to allievate tightness in my chest.

Good luck.
posted by Argyle at 10:28 PM on June 29, 2007

I'm a former XC runner with asthma.

If you haven't already, go to a doc and get your asthma treated. I'm on Albuterol (as needed) and Flovent HFA (daily) and it seems to be helping. Note that different people require different doses of Flovent - 110 mcg wasn't doing it for me. Also be aware that what seem to be pneumonia bouts may sometimes actually be asthma attacks.

Also, get a pneumonia vaccine and annual flu shots. Flu can trigger asthma.

Once you've treated these problems you can rebuild your aerobic capacity.
posted by zippy at 4:17 AM on June 30, 2007

What does your doctor say? Is he treating your asthma with anything?
posted by DarkForest at 4:38 AM on June 30, 2007

a respiratory therapist might be able to help you, or if you're not sick enough for that, a physical therapist. alternatively, if your local hospital has a wellness program, they may be able to refer you to a trainer.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:39 AM on June 30, 2007

Have you heard of Powerbreathe before? I haven't used it personally, but my boyfriend has being using it to help recover from shortness of breath due to chronic bronchitis. His doctor recommended this to him, and he reports that it works well.

But I still second going to another doc to get your asthma properly treated! Good luck with everything.
posted by hannahq at 11:37 AM on June 30, 2007

Maybe some of the products and exercises for brass players would do some good? The Breathing Gym book and/or DVD is often recommended (disclaimer: not a personal endorsement, since I've never even read this book -- but I guess I ought to someday). A lot of the basic breathing exercises for musicians are yoga-based and most suggest efficiency (pdf link) and relaxation. Many of the routines you can find online are based on the teachings of tuba players Sam Pilafian or Arnold Jacobs. Two other examples: here and here. Check with your doctor to see if these kinds of things would be OK for your situation.
posted by oldtimey at 10:35 AM on July 1, 2007

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