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Helping Pulmonary Rehab Patients Improve Fitness Through Video Game Technology

February 15, 2011

Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Uses Innovative Approach to Make Rehab Fun

Most of the time, when we’re doing something fun—even if it’s challenging—it feels more like play than work.

And for pulmonary rehabilitation patients, who must work hard to improve their fitness and breathing, the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Washington Hospital is making sure that they get the most fun out of an effective rehab regimen using a new tool: video game software.

Thanks to a grant, the program purchased the Nintendo Wii Fit as an innovative approach to the rehabilitation process with hopes of expanding its use in the future to help more patients.

"It is important for our patients to have and maintain their physical activity level so they can continue to do daily activities of living," according to Sherry Harrington, RCP, a pulmonary rehab specialist who co-coordinates Washington Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. "Being short of breath requires a lot of energy for our patients and they tire easier with simple activities. Keeping up their strength, walking or doing some type of aerobic activity helps the heart and lungs work more efficiently."

During the pulmonary rehabilitation process, Harrington and co-coordinator Rose Stortz, RCP, teach patients how to safely exercise and at what intensity.

"Patients on oxygen learn how to exercise and maintain oxygen saturations, asthmatics learn how to use medications to control bronchospasm with exercise, and all pulmonary patients learn the benefit of pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing to control SOB (shortness of breath) with activity," Stortz says.

Stortz and Harrington see the Wii Fit as a tool that patients can use both during rehab and at home to improve many aspects of fitness in an entertaining and challenging way.

"What first caught our attention to the Wii Fit is that it emphasis’s balance," Harrington explains. "Balance is an important aspect to exercise and is closely looked at by Joint Commission. We currently do strength and balance exercises, but thought that adding Wii Fit as an adjunct to our program would be fun and interesting."

"The more activities you do, the stronger and better your balance," Stortz points out. "The Wii Fit, which has a balance board, is designed specifically for fitness and the activities touch on each of these categories: yoga, balance, strength, aerobic and training-plus.

Most pulmonary rehab patients, before entering the program, have a metabolic stress test, which calculates a MET (metabolic equivalent task) level that tells Stortz and Harrington how hard a patient’s body is working during a particular task.

"Most of our patients have a MET level of five or less," Harrington says. "The Wii Fit gives you a MET level for each activity so we are able to pick appropriate activities for individual patients based on this. We just started implementing Wii Fit with our patients and currently have started to use it with two patients. We have decided to have our patients use the video system once a week for 15 minutes."

Harrington and Stortz hope that the new approach offers another aspect of challenge—and fun—to the traditional rehabilitation process.

"Our first patient stated that the soccer balance game, which is a MET level of 2, was harder than the MET level of 2 comparable to the treadmill," Harrington says. "However, she really enjoyed the experience, is excited to try it and actually has one at home that she is going to start using."

The second patient to try the program was not as enthusiastic to try the video system and wasn’t to keen on her first attempt. But she still gave it another try and on her second attempt, the patient laughed and even wanted to repeat the activity so she could better her score, Harrington says.

To date, Stortz and Harrington say Washington Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehab program is the only program in Northern California using the Wii and they hope to continue expanding to incorporate new and innovative uses for it.

"We were very lucky to obtain the grant money for the Wii Fit and we think it has a lot of potential for the future," according to Stortz.

For patients who use the Wii at home, when weather conditions such as the cold or heat would keep them at home indoors and inactive, they can now exercise year round in a fun and interesting way.

"Plus, exercise is always more fun when you don’t realize how hard you are working!" Harrington says.

Learn More About Pulmonary Rehabilitation

The pulmonary rehabilitation program at Washington Hospital provides one-on-one counseling and support for patients who are candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation, including patients who suffer from shortness of breath and may have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or other respiratory diseases.

The program requires a physician referral. For more information, visit www.whhs.com/pulmonary-rehabilitation/ or call (510) 494-7025.

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