Weight training can greatly improve the day-to-day lives of elderly people with lung disease, research suggests.
Lung disease can be debilitating
Rehabilitation programmes for elderly patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease usually focus on exercises like walking and cycling.
But researchers at Glenfield Hospital, in Leicester, found adding strength exercises to rehab routines gave patients an extra fillip.
The research was presented at a meeting of the British Thoracic Society.
COPD is a chronic disabling lung disease. It kills approximately 30,000 people a year in the UK, with 600,000 people currently living with the condition.
The standard regime of walking or cycling can be a great help for patients whose condition often leaves them struggling for breath, but for some it has a minimal effect on muscle weakness and organ or tissue degeneration.
The Glenfield team added individually prescribed strength training exercises to the standard seven-week rehab programme.
The exercises included leg extension and leg curl exercises on a multi-gym, and free-weight upper limb exercises.
On average, the patients were able to lift almost twice as much by the end of the programme (25.8kg) as they could at the start (14.2kg).
Similarly, the distance covered during the shuttle walk test between two cones was extended from 192 metres in week one to 291 metres in week seven.
Dr Sarah Deacon, one of the team carrying out the research, said: "These strength training exercises produced significant results in terms of improved physical performance and enhanced muscle strength in elderly patients with COPD.
"From what we have seen, the indications are that this effect probably continues beyond the seven weeks."
Pulmonary rehabilitation can improve the quality of life of sufferers whose health has often deteriorated, leading them to be isolated and dependent on others.
However, only 1.7% of the total patients diagnosed with COPD have access to pulmonary rehabilitation each year and only 57% of the programmes have secure funding.
Professor Andrew Peacock, of the British Thoracic Society, said: "We are calling on the government to improve the availability of pulmonary rehabilitation.
"It is disgraceful that such a tiny proportion of sufferers have access to a service that could improve their quality of life so much.
"This kind of innovative pulmonary rehabilitation project is a great example of what could be achieved given the right resources."
The research was funded by the British Lung Foundation.
Chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton, said: "We are delighted that this research we funded has shown such good improvements for people with COPD when they do weight training or strength building exercises."
The BLF plans to launch a pilot scheme offering exercise classes to people with lung disease next year.