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Golfing with COPD (Pulmonary Disease)

As if playing golf isn’t tough enough, imagine playing when you can’t breathe that well. That’s what people with COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease must face, but that shouldn’t deter their love for the game.

COPD, according to the Mayo Clinic, is the overall term for a group of chronic lung conditions that obstruct the airways in your lungs. The two most common are chronic bronchitis and emphysema, but it can also refer to damage caused by asthmatic bronchitis. Regardless of the condition, all forms of COPD result in a blockage within the tubes and air sacs that make up your lungs. This hinders your ability to exhale properly, trapping air in your lungs and making it difficult to breathe normally.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, while long term exposure to other lung irritants, such as dust, chemical fumes, and air pollution, may also contribute to the condition.

Often times, people with pulmonary disease will need supplemental oxygen to help keep the oxygen saturation in the blood at adequate levels. Portable units allow for freedom of movement outside the home and while working in the garden or playing golf. These are stored in backpacks that can be worn on the back during a round of golf, for example.

A key concern that needs to be addressed for golfers with COPD is how much oxygen they will need during their round of golf. It’s imperative that you discuss this with your physician before getting back out on the links.

One of the determinants is whether the need is for continuous flow of oxygen or a pulse dose of oxygen. Pulse dose results in a cylinder of oxygen lasting longer since oxygen is being dispensed only when the individual breathes in. The amount of oxygen dispensed, usually measured in liters/minute, for either delivery method is also a factor in determining oxygen requirements.

Another concern is how the oxygen will be delivered. I tried swinging a golf club with an m-6 cylinder in a pack strapped to my back and the air tube secured in the back of my head vs. under my chin. To my delight, I was able to swing the club without any obstruction from the pack or the tubing, and the weight of the cylinder, at least for me, was not an issue. The only issue from this little trial is the ability to keep the pack snug enough against the body so that it doesn’t move at all during the swing, but yet allow freedom of movement.

One of my clients, Doris, is in her late 60’s, has COPD, and is awaiting a double lung transplant. A year ago she went through the golf fitness program, while still in pulmonary rehabilitation, with one of her goals to get back out on the golf course. She knew, however, that she first needed to build up her strength and endurance.

Doris has worked herself up to walking 2 miles on the track, with oxygen tank in tow, and is supplementing that with some golf-specific strength and balance exercises. She states that “fitness has helped me tremendously” and is back out playing golf 2 to 3 times each week.

Doris prefers to keep her Helios in the cart as she indicates that it’s hard to balance while putting and swinging a club with it on her back. She does monitor her blood-oxygen levels with her pulseoximeter to ensure she doesn’t desaturate, especially around the greens. Again, your physician can work up a plan for your specific needs.

Dedication to her fitness program has allowed Doris to get back into doing the thing she loves to do, that’s being with her friends and having a good time out on the golf course.

Here are a few good tips from Doris:

– let someone else drive the cart as it uses up energy
– don’t play on “cart path only” days
– take into account the humidity along with temperature as more humid days will require more oxygen
– strengthen the legs
– learn to slow down. Don’t worry about the foursome behind you, just play ready golf and keep moving
– be mindful of the terrain of the golf course and try to avoid ones that have a very hilly terrain
– enjoy the time with others and being outdoors, and don’t worry about your score

Having COPD shouldn’t be a deterrent for playing golf. Regular exercise can improve your strength, balance, and endurance, and strengthen your respiratory muscles. In doing so, you’ll be able to get back into those activities of daily living, like playing a round of golf, with less fatigue and anxiety. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise. Listen to your body, start easy with the exercises, and gradually build upon the intensity as conditioning levels improve. . . and they will improve. A certified exercise trainer can help provide the proper guidance you need.

[by: Bob Forman]