Breathing better this winter

73 year old Barrie Reynolds and 71 year old Gary Syme both grew up when cigarettes were commonplace and avoiding second hand smoke was near impossible. They don’t know each other, but have a lot in common, including both now having breathing issues. 

They have also completed the Better Breathing Pulmonary Rehabilitation course and now realise that exercise is key to them staying well. 

The course is free and run by respiratory nurses and physiotherapists to help people with breathing issues manage and learn about their condition. 

Barrie has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), so was referred by his General Practitioner to the course, which he completed from home during the Covid-19 response. 

“For the last 10 years I have been smoke free, but I had a career in the New Zealand Navy when you were give a ration of tobacco, and I smoked for 30 years,” says Barrie.

“Things other people take for granted, such as speaking and eating can be hard work, so I knew I needed help.”

“The respiratory nurse and physiotherapist from the course have given me a lot of information about my condition and taught me how to breathe properly and how to do some exercises.”

Barrie enjoys walking with his wife, but now realises through the course education that he was walking too far in the mornings, which meant he had little energy for the rest of the day.

“I’ve enjoyed doing the course from home and have felt well supported by the team, who call every week. It can also be an effort for me to get in and out of the car, so not having to do that has taken away some of the stress.”

“The thing that stops a lot of people is being afraid of the unknown and asking for help, but my advice would be not to worry on your own and talk to your doctor.”

Respiratory nurse, Clare Lawrence, says that the course helps you feel less tired and breathless. It’s also a great way to improve your mood, meet new friends and have fun. 

Gary, who also has COPD completed the Better Breathing course in the community and now runs the Bishopdale coffee and exercise group for people with breathing issues. 

“I was an accounting auditor and a lot of work was carried out at the bar in the pub, so although I didn’t smoke I got a lot of second hand smoke,” says Gary. 

The course kick started Gary’s love of exercise and he is now a regular at the YMCA gym and during the Covid-19 lockdown hired a spin bike. 

“The key is exercise, even if it’s a struggle at first, it does get easier. You don’t have to go hard out, it can be gentle and it also helps your balance.”

“You need to be open and honest with your doctor, if you are struggling with your breathing. It doesn’t have to be this way as you get older. Now is the time to focus on your own health.”

Before Covid-19, the Better Breathing Pulmonary Rehabilitation was a face-to-face group based course, but this wasn’t an option during Alert levels 2-4. It was still important to keep this group active, but also safe in their bubbles. 

“The answer was a home based programme and we worked with participants to identify their preferred contact method, either by post, phone, email, text, telehealth (Zoom/Skype) or a combination,” says Clare. 

Participants were posted out a home based handbook and had an initial assessment over the phone or online, so they set goals and an exercise regime together. Then they were supported remotely each week. 

Now that NZ is in level 1, the Better Breathing team are able to offer a smaller group based programme alongside a home based one.

If this sounds like something that would benefit you, talk to your general practice team to see if it’s right for you.

Some other tips to staying well this winter:

  • Keep washing your hands to prevent the spread of winter bugs
  • Make sure you’ve had your flu jab
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Keep yourself active and moving every day
  • Make sure your house is warm
  • Take care of your mental health and stay connected with family and friends
  • Don’t delay if you’re unwell - seek help quickly

Pictures above: 

  1. Barrie and his wife Minjian Zhang enjoy getting out for walks. 
  2. Gary at the YMCA gym in Bishopdale. The Better Breathing course has kick started Gary’s love of exercise and he is now a regular at the gym. 

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