For one Greenwich resident, a trip to the high street meant regularly stopping and pretending to look in shop windows to hide her embarrassment at being out of breath.
Sarah*, who smoked her first cigarette at age 11, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2008 after a routine health check showed signs of reduced lung function.
COPD includes conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and some cases of chronic asthma.
The former smoker said it was two years before she noticed symptoms of breathlessness and fatigue which left her gasping for air without warning.
“I used to walk for miles. I used to love walking and I could go out walking for at least two hours,” Sarah said.
“Then I couldn’t even get up out of the chair without being out of breath... it’s very frightening.”
“When it first started I thought I was on my own but you don’t realise the number of other people who are also affected.”
Sarah’s GP encouraged her to attend pulmonary rehabilitation classes at a local leisure centre.
“I thought, ‘What’s that going to do? I can’t breathe, how am I going to exercise?’...but it was marvellous,” she said.
“Physios are there, they monitor you with your exercising and they push you a little further...they gave me my life back.”
When the course ended, Sarah signed up as a volunteer and now helps others twice a week.
She said the classes gave her the skills and confidence to work out at her local gym four days a week and enjoy holidays abroad again.
Plumstead Health Centre specialist physiotherapist Helen Jefford said pulmonary rehabilitation classes aimed to help people with COPD who were becoming increasingly breathless.
“The evidence reports that patients who attend pulmonary rehab feel less breathless, fitter and have an improved quality of life,” Ms Jefford said.
“Physiotherapists are instrumental in delivering the classes. They are experts in the prescription of exercise when managing patients with chronic lung disease,” she said.
Pulmonary rehab classes offer tailored exercise plans and education sessions presented by a range of healthcare professionals, she said.
* Name has been changed at patient request