COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, affects 30 million people in the United States, and smoking is the leading cause. Now, a new therapy program is designed to improve the lives and lungs of people with COPD.
It's not easy for John Moberly and his wife to get around. She was already sick herself when John started having problems with COPD. Now, to help his breathing, he uses oxygen, and a harmonica.
"You're blowing and drawing so you're exercising your muscles, your diaphragm," Moberly explained.
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This is Harmonicas for Health. The music therapist teaches a class of COPD patients the correct way to breathe to make notes and familiar songs. Therapists say playing harmonica exercises muscles needed to pull air in and push air out of the lungs. It also strengthens abdominal muscles for a better cough, helping patients clear the lungs. Researchers are measuring health benefits over a 12 week period.
"We haven't finished the study yet. But we are seeing significant improvement in muscle strength and the six-minute walk test. That's how far they can walk in six minutes," Mary Hart, Project Manager and COPD Educator at Baylor University Medical Center said.
Emma Johnson has trouble inhaling, and depends on her oxygen tank and her harmonica playing friends.
"I can do this and it helps me," said Johnson. "It's enjoyable, put it like that."
"I've met people in this harmonica class that will be friends of mine till the day that I die. And I love them all," Moberly said.
There is no cure for COPD, but where there is music science suggests there may be better breathing and better health.
Harmonicas for Health is supported by the COPD foundation and the Academy of Country Music. Earlier studies have shown the benefits of playing wind instruments, like clarinets and trumpets, on patients with chronic lung conditions.
Contributors to this news report include: Don Wall, Field Producer; Mark Montgomery, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Robert Walko, Editor.