Many people with breathing difficulties learn about the benefits of exercise after seeing their doctor or beginning pulmonary rehabilitation. Exercise gets your heart pumping and increases your breathing rate, which means increased circulation of oxygenated blood throughout the body. This can help your body with oxygenation of the tissues and, the better shape your muscles are in, the better they are at using oxygen effectively. With regular exercise, your muscles will require less oxygen and produce less carbon dioxide, reducing how quickly you need to breathe and how quickly you feel out of breath. Regular exercise also strengthens your heart and improves circulation, which continues to help improve your body’s oxygenation. In short: Regular exercise can help improve lung function, symptoms of lung conditions and overall heart health and circulation. All of these combine to create better oxygenation in the body and improved overall health, even for people with lung conditions and breathing difficulties.
So, if you struggle with your breath while exercising, should you consider EWOT?
Exercise with Oxygen Therapy (EWOT) is a method of training your body to re-establish oxygen pathways in the capillaries for better blood-flow and oxygen absorption. By wearing a mask that supplies a constant flow of oxygen while engaging in a workout, you can improve your health, enhance your performance, and achieve better fitness results. While this technique was originally developed by a physicist named Dr. Manfred von Ardenne to treat cancer patients, it has since been adapted for use with athletes and certain other medical conditions.
Exercise with oxygen therapy treatments are delivered in two main ways. Nasal cannulas deliver a lower percentage of oxygen due to the air escaping out of your mouth; this method is less expensive. Oxygen masks provide a tighter seal for more optimal oxygen delivery. The mask or nasal tubes are connected to a longer tube which plugs into an oxygen tank or a concentrator. A concentrator pulls oxygen out of the surrounding air, purifying it. You exercise on a piece of cardio equipment, such as an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical, or stepper for 10 to 15 minutes while using the device.
Proponents of EWOT say that it can offer a number of different health benefits because of the combination of oxygenation and regular aerobic exercise. They suggest these benefits could include:
These are significant claims, so could EWOT benefit people with COPD and other lung or breathing conditions?
It might seem odd that exercising when you are short of breath actually improves it—but it works! Exercise helps your blood circulate and helps your heart send oxygen to your body. It also strengthens your respiratory muscles. This can make it easier to breathe. If you already use oxygen therapy, EWOT may be right for you. The use of oxygen therapy during exercise has already been proven to improve exercise tolerance and stamina for COPD patients.
If you use supplemental oxygen, you should exercise with it. Your doctor may adjust your flow rate for physical activity, which will be different than your flow rate when you are resting. Be aware, however, the EWOT uses continuous flow oxygen,  so if you have been using an oxygen concentrator that provides pulse dosing, you may require new equipment to participate in EWOT. Work with your doctor to adjust your oxygen for physical activity. Some gyms and physical therapy centers may offer EWOT, so that could be an option, but it is essential that before you start exercising, talk to your doctor and healthcare team about what types and amounts of exercise are right for you.
Just like any situation in which medical grade supplemental oxygen is in use, there are some risks to be aware of and consider. Using more oxygen than is medically necessary can be hazardous to your health and raises the potential for complications like oxygen toxicity or the suppression of the drive to breathe. Additional side effects could include dry nasal passages, sinuses or throat. By and large, these risks can be diminished or avoided altogether by keeping EWOT sessions to 15 minutes or less, keeping the oxygen delivery to four liters per minute or less and maintaining 90-95% oxygen purity. Discuss all possible side effects and complications of EWOT with your doctor before considering or beginning the training regimen.
Exercising on oxygen therapy, as well as EWOT can take some getting used to at first. However, by following a few tips, you can help improve your overall oxygenation and your exercise experience, particularly if you experience increased shortness of breath or discomfort during exercise.
Ultimately, deciding whether EWOT is right for you is a decision you should make with your doctor. If you have not yet incorporated oxygen therapy into your exercise routine, or you are new to exercising with breathing difficulties altogether, you may need to do some oxygen level tests to find out whether EWOT would benefit you. If you do decide to try EWOT, stay in communication with your health care team and pay close attention to how it makes your body feel. You and your doctor may need to make adjustments to your routine to find the correct therapeutic fit for you.
If you already use an oxygen concentrator, talk to your doctor about using it during exercise. If you do not currently use an oxygen concentrator, but require oxygen therapy, talk to your doctor about incorporating an oxygen concentrator so you can experience peace of mind when outside your home and away from your stationary concentrator. Remember: Exercise can bring many benefits and be enjoyable, even with a long-term health problem. Even if a task seems difficult at first, if you tackle one thing at a time at your own pace, you will quickly notice an improvement in your symptoms. Find out more today by contacting Inogen to learn how an Inogen One oxygen concentrator can benefit you.