How Andre went from battling for breath to gym hero at 75 – and is passionate about helping older people to challenge themselves.
The first sign that something was up was my coughing. My daughter kept nagging me about it. The stairs were suddenly really hard. I always used to walk fast, but suddenly it was too much. It just felt like there was something wrong with my lungs.
I worked in factories that made lead, and I used to smoke – it can’t have helped. The doctor put me on inhalers, and we tried a few other things. Then I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition, in about 2015.
I had always promised myself that I would start exercising, go to the gym. But somehow I never did. Then I got the diagnosis of COPD, and also had a heart attack. That was a real wake-up call. I thought: “Hey, hold on a minute! I want a telegram from the Queen!”. I realised that I wanted to live a lot longer than I was on track to live.
So I threw myself into the pulmonary rehabilitation course run by Bristol Community Health’s Community Respiratory Team. On the course the nurses and physios educate you about the condition, put together an activity plan, and then help you to exercise at the gym. They encourage you to get out of breath safely, which improves activity levels and then in turn reduces the breathlessness. The idea is that you gain the confidence to keep active after the course, and get more control over your condition.
I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy the exercise, and how quickly it would start helping me. After the course I kept going to the gym, and now I go four times a week. I really enjoy the social side of it too. I live on my own, so it’s great to get involved with people again.
Since I’ve been exercising, I feel 1,000% better than I ever felt since before I was diagnosed with COPD, even. I’ve got muscles now! I do still get out of breath, but I can handle it. I feel as if I’m more on top of my condition.
It’s spurred me on to eat more healthily, too. I do lots of wok cooking now, with fish and chicken – I don’t eat any red meat any more. I used to eat a two-litre tub of ice cream a week! But now I only have one or two scoops a week. I can’t completely give up ice cream though…
I really want to say a big thank you to the Community Respiratory team, because now I’ve progressed so much that I’m in the position to give something back. So I’ve started volunteering as an exercise buddy to support new people starting the rehab course. I see them wandering round the gym – looking just like I used to. Starting to exercise at a gym can feel daunting, but it doesn’t take long to get confident on the equipment.
You can do it all at home too. If you have a floor, or stairs, or a chair, then you’ve got something to exercise on. There are plenty of things you can do on the first step or holding onto the back of a chair.
As a society, we don’t help older people because we say: “Slow down! Take it easy! You aren’t as young as you used to be!” Then they start feeling scared. If you are an older person – even if you have COPD – you need to be active or your problems will get worse.
Believe in yourself. Just start slowly. Get advice from your GP if you need it. Once you’re a little bit fitter, you won’t get out of breath so much.
I’m an exercise junkie now, but to start with I couldn’t do 10 minutes. And if you care about an older person or someone with a lung condition, give them faith in themselves.
Learn more: What’s COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It’s a common condition and many people don’t realise they have it. The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control. nhs.uk/conditions
Get support: About our Community Respiratory Service
Our Community Respiratory Service is a team of nurses, physiotherapists and support staff who help people with chronic respiratory conditions. We treat patients at home to prevent hospital admission and help people get home from hospital sooner. The team provides pulmonary rehabilitation, a programme of personalised exercises and education to help patients understand and manage their own condition.
To receive COPD support from the team at home you’ll need to be referred by a healthcare professional. You can refer yourself to pulmonary rehab if you have a chronic respiratory condition. Call 0117 961 7159 or visit briscomhealth.org.uk/our–services/copd
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for Bristol Community Health, find out more here.