Physicians at the University of Michigan Health System have been able to bring an improvement in the respiratory function of the patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by teaching them to play the musical instrument of harmonica.
The students are members of a pulmonary rehabilitation class at the university. The weekly harmonica instruction is one way that people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can focus on their breathing in a way that improves their respiratory function.
Playing the harmonica in the rehabilitation group requires a slow breath in and out to be able to modulate the tones that are coming out of the harmonica, so that the harmonica playing in itself requires the individual to focus on what they're doing with their respiratory pattern, said the investigators who are conducting the procedure.
It's not as easy as just playing a few notes every now and then. Students in the harmonica class say they have noticed a marked improvement in their respiratory function - but only after doing regular breathing exercises with the instruments.
People with COPD can take other actions to improve their respiratory function, experts say. Breathing exercises - with or without the use of a harmonica - are common recommendations from lung specialists, as are various medications and oxygen therapy. Martinez also recommends remaining as active as possible.
The most important thing they can do is to stop smoking and to avoid exposure to cigarette smoke. For many people in the harmonica class, though, the best therapy of all involves their weekly get-togethers.