How I Grew A Lung in 90 Days

I am 47 and have garden variety, homozygous delta F508 CF. While it is true that I probably benefit from a helpful modifier gene or two, I am convinced that the reason I am so healthy today is that I have exercised regularly and vigorously my entire adult life. As I write this, I have rivulets of sweat dripping down my shins making tiny little puddles on the floor. My schnauzer loves it. The reason: I just completed the “Plyometrics” DVD from the P90X Home Fitness Program (have you seen the infomercials?). I am on round two of P90X now. I don’t know what the “P” stands for, but “90” is the number of days the program lasts, and “X” is for Extreme.

I’m not really endorsing P90X here. I like it because it is HARD, it is different from my usual routine, and because it is a home workout program…no germ-infested expensive gym is needed. With a few dumbbells and a chin up bar, anyone in pretty good shape can do it. For example, the DVD I just finished included about 45 minutes of jumping up and down in various ways. Imagine wearing the Vest while riding a racehorse and being the horse, all at the same time. It’s hard! But this program has changed the way I look at and do my exercise, and that is what I want to share.

I was sicker than I have ever been this winter. When my energy started drifting down, we discovered that my lung function was doing the same thing, so I did a three-week home IV treatment. Not surprisingly, except for drug allergy issues and a DVT in my arm from the PICC, I felt GREAT when it was over…for two days.

Then, as luck would have it, I caught a nasty virus, which resulted in a week in bed, followed by a week in the hospital with pneumonia, followed by ANOTHER three weeks of IV antibiotics.

Not surprisingly (to me, anyway), as soon as the line was out, I was searching for a workout program to get me back to the shape I had been in before all of this began. P90X was the way I did it, but there is a myriad of ways to get moving.

So every day, I followed the program. I exercised to the DVD’s six days a week in my garage. These were short sessions, about an hour long each

Now, here is the part that is hard to believe. Between the antibiotics and the exercise program (nothing else changed), I seem to have grown a new lobe of lung tissue! Kidding. Not really, of course. However, I am a bit of a nerd about my pulmonary function tests. I have them dating back over 20 years. When I blew for the first time this spring after finishing the exercise program (and six weeks of antibiotics, don’t forget). The volume of air I blew out in one second (FEV1) increased by 39% since the previous, and the small airway number (the FEF25-75%) improved by 70%!

I was a bit shocked by the “percent predicted” figures, having not heard those numbers in decades, so I decided it was a mistake. Maybe the norms being used were different. Maybe the machine was wrong. Then, I blew again. Same numbers. I drove home wondering how in the world scar tissue could turn into lung tissue (I’m sorry, but I still have a Pathologist sense of humor, despite retirement).

So I did what a nerd would do, and I dug out all the previous reports and compared volumes. Volumes don’t lie. Sure enough, the last time I saw numbers even close to these were in my 20’s. Did I mention that I’m 47?

Yes, this is an anecdotal story (but a true one). I did not do a randomized, double blinded, placebo controlled study demonstrating unequivocally that exercise caused my lung function to improve (although several well designed studies HAVE shown that exercise slows down decline in lung function in CF). I know that the antibiotics helped immensely. But it isn’t like I haven’t had antibiotics before…

The bottom line: You must move! It helps to push yourself a bit. Breathe hard! Cough! Repeat! If you tend to desaturate, use oxygen! It gets easier. Even though we have CF, we do show a training effect, just like everyone else. It is hard work to stay alive and well with CF. This is undeniable. But the reward is worth it.

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