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DANCE Your Way to Healthier Lungs

If you love to dance, you know how good it feels to move your body to music. It exhilarates you physically and mentally. It makes you feel alive.

But Helen Sorenson, a registered respiratory therapist, gerontologist, and assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, TX, has another version of “dancing” she’d like to share with respiratory patients. Her DANCE program stands for “Disease Management, Activity, Nutrition, Contribution, and Environment,” and is filled with great advice on how to keep moving despite a chronic respiratory illness.

“DANCE is a necessity for those living with lung disease,” says Helen. “DANCE will help you take the steps to a healthier you.”

The lessons are free and the steps are easy, so follow Helen’s lead and let’s DANCE!

Lesson 1: Disease Management

Step 1: Understand the disease and how it affects your life.

Having a clear understanding of your lung disease and the impact it has on your daily life will make it easier for you to talk with health care providers and will help you to take an active role in developing a treatment plan that is unique to your needs.

Questions you should ask about your lung disease include:

  • What is the name of my lung disease?
  • How does my disease affect my lungs?
  • What are the common signs and symptoms of my diagnosis?
  • How do I monitor my lung disease?
  • Does my lung disease affect other medical conditions I may have?
  • What is the prognosis of my lung disease?
  • What treatment options are available for me?
  • What are the signs and symptoms that require prompt medical attention?

Step 2: Keep the lines of communication open.

Many times medical errors are simply the result of miscommunication. Establishing open communication with your health care team is essential to obtaining quality care. No one knows your needs and concerns better than you, so speak up and let your voice be heard. Remember that there are no “silly” questions when it comes to your health!

Tips for communicating with your health care team:

  • Before your visit write down all your questions and concerns. At the end of your visit look over your list to make sure your questions were answered.
  • If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, keep asking questions until you do understand.
  • To assure that you have understood, repeat what you have heard and ask for clarification if needed.
  • If you are having a hard time hearing, ask your health professional to shut the door, turn down the volume on the TV/radio, and/or take you to some place that is quiet.
  • Take notes, or get a friend or family member to take notes for you. Or, bring a tape recorder and tape the conversation so you can play it back later in case you forget some of the information.
  • Request printed instructions.
  • Ask where to go for more information.
  • Remember that in addition to your doctor, other members of your health care team, such as respiratory therapists, nurses, and pharmacists, can be good sources of information.

Step 3: Volunteer information -- don’t wait to be asked!

  • You know important things about your symptoms and your health history. Tell your doctor what you think he or she needs to know.
  • Don’t hesitate to share important personal information with your doctor -- even if it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
  • Bring a “health history” list with you, and keep it up-to-date. You might want to make a copy of the form for each member of your family as well.
  • Bring all of the medicines you are taking, or a list of those medicines, with you to your visit. Include information on when and how often you take them, and at what dose. Talk about any allergies or reactions you have had to your medicines.
  • Tell your doctor about any herbal products or alternative medicines you use, or alternative treatments you may be receiving.
  • Bring other medical information, such as x-ray films, test results, and medical records.

Step 4: Follow up.

  • Call your Physician if; you have questions, if your symptoms get worse, and/or if you have problems with your medicine.
  • If you had tests and do not hear from your doctor, call for your test results. Ask for a copy of all test results for your own records.
  • If your doctor said you should see a specialist and/or further testing, make an appointment


Lesson 2: Activity

Step 1: Importance of exercise.

People living with lung disease may think just catching their breath is all the exercise they need. But nothing could be further from the truth. When you are inactive, you lose body strength, your heart has to work harder to supply the body with oxygen, and in turn you experience an increase in shortness of breath that often restricts physical activities. This vicious cycle can be overcome by doing exercises that are specially designed for people who are experiencing shortness of breath.

Step 2: Exercises designed just for you.

Physical activity is essential to the overall health of those living with lung disease. Many hospital facilities have pulmonary rehabilitation programs that offer education about lung disease, monitored exercises, and ask your Respiratory Therapist and/or doctor about programs available in your area. The most important thing to remember is to always get your doctor’s advice on what type of exercise is best for you before starting a program. Learn more about Exercising Safely with COPD.

Lesson 3: Nutrition

Step 1: Meet nutritional requirements.

Nutrition remains important throughout life. Those who are living with lung disease often have difficulty meeting daily nutrition needs a variety of factors such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Side effects of medication (diarrhea, bloating, abdominal cramping, nausea, etc)
  • Conflicting dietary requirements for those who have multiple disease process
  • Altered food tastes
  • Financial issues
  • Poor fitting dentures
  • Ask your health care professional about modifying your diet to overcome these obstacles to good nutrition

Step 2: Maintain a healthy weight.

Because some types of lung disease may cause you to work harder to get enough oxygen—which burns more calories—you may find you lose weight very easily. Poor nutrition can lead to declining health and is associated with impaired pulmonary status, reduced diaphragmatic mass, lower exercise capacity, and higher mortality rates than seen in adequately nourished individuals with lung disease. To make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs, write down what you eat and how often you eat in a food diary for a few days. Then review your results with your doctor so that together you can evaluate and modify your diet. Learn more about Eating Right with COPD.

Step 3: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

A new study shows that eating five apples a week may actually improve Lung Health Online. So while an apple a day in your case may not keep the doctor away permanently, an apple a day can keep lung disease at bay!

Lesson 4: Contribution

For human beings, the feeling of doing something meaningful and important contributes to our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. In fact, a recent study showed that for adults over age 60, the higher their levels of productivity, the greater their overall sense of well being. This was true in every group studied, no matter the race or gender.

One of the best ways to contribute to your own well being, and thus your health, is to contribute to the well being of others.

Step 1: Get involved.

There are many organizations in need of volunteers to do everything from deliver meals to rock premature infants. So, if you want to stay healthy, volunteer your time and talents. You’ll feel good about yourself for helping someone else, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment, and you’ll feel full of positive energy. It doesn’t really matter what you do to contribute, as long as it provides a challenge and interests you.

Step 2: Support groups.

There are respiratory support groups throughout the U.S. called Better Breathers Clubs. These clubs offer educational programs and are a wonderful place to meet and interact with other people who are suffering from lung disease.

Additional, support is available on the internet.


Lesson 5: Environment

Because you are living with lung disease, you’ll have to make some changes to your environment. While you have the same danger of falls, fractures, and other accidents as people without lung disease, for you it might be harder to recover from them, which could lead to loss of physical health.

Step 1: Make your home safe.

  • Remove dangerous clutter from your home.
  • Discard throw rugs.
  • Make sure your water heaters are set at 102 degrees or less.
  • Check your home for fire hazards or have your local fire department come to your house and perform a fire audit to make sure your home complies with all fire safety recommendations.
  • Install handrails on staircases and in tubs and showers.
  • Check lighting in your home, especially in the kitchen, hallways, stairways, and doorways.
  • Install lever door handles.
  • Reduce environmental hazards by Coping with Indoor Air Pollution and by Minimizing the Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution.

Step 2: Practice preventive health.

Make sure you care for your immune system, too. Get regular checkups and vaccines — especially the flu vaccine. Record date of vaccinations on Health Form.

Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

Go Ahead and DANCE!

Remember: living with respiratory disease doesn’t mean giving up a normal life. It doesn’t necessarily even mean leading a less active life. Follow these simple DANCE moves, and you’ll be practicing good health and living well.

Reviewed: May 26, 2005


2024 American Association for Respiratory Care