Adding Exercise to your Vocabulary – Derek from Exercise COPD & Me Whitehall shares his story

After being diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, Derek joined our Exercise, COPD & Me programme. This is his story about adding exercise to his vocabulary for the first time.

Exercise is not a word that has loomed large in my vocabulary at any stage in my life. If truth be told it is something I have avoided putting into practice.

The Oxford dictionary defines it as “Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness”. Fair enough, if that is what you are into.

All my life I have treated the act of exercise with a certain amount of distain, something to be avoided under most circumstances. Now don’t get me wrong, in my youth I was not averse to walking around a snooker table and in my teenage years I played tennis – badly, and swam.

Four or five years ago I found myself getting breathless when I walked. I put this down to the fact that I was getting older and proceeded to ignore it. Then about two years ago I thought I had a chest infection and visited my GP. She was not happy with what she found and sent me straight to hospital. From that point on my life was turned upside down.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis the consultant said as I sat in my hospital bed and whatever it was I had it.  And what’s more there is no cure, no quick fix with a week or a month of prescribed magic. He went on to say it can be kept under control for as long as possible with the help of one of the new “technical drugs” which have just been approved for use here.  I had heard of technical school and technical drawing, but a technical drug, that was a new one on me. I was on a sharp learning curve.

Before I saw the consultant I struggled to go up stairs or walk any distance, after a month on the medication that all changed. I still got breathless and suffered discomfort when I tried to breathe deeply but at least I could get out and about, get the bus into town and go places.

A friend who lives in Whitehall gave me her churches parish bulletin which contained information on a COPD exercise class which took place every Thursday in Whitehall Parish Centre. Now exercise as I said earlier was always a word I tried to avoid, but link it together with class and I was liable to go into a steep decline.  Nevertheless, biting the bullet I decided to phone Siel Bleu who were running the class to get more information.  After speaking to a very nice woman there I decided to give the class a go.

Someone from the Parish Centre told me that the group meet up earlier than midday for a cup of tea and a chat. I turned up at the centre not knowing what to expect and was immediately made to feel very welcome by the people there and as for the exercise, I actually enjoyed it. Each one of us was at a different stage of our illness, whether COPD or similar and the trainer allowed everyone to progress at their own pace.

After a few weeks I felt my fitness levels rising. Some of the exercises I struggled with at the start were beginning to become almost easy. Each week our trainer mixes up the exercises we do so the session is never boring.  He also gave us exercises to do at home which I personally feel are essential.  I started off doing ten minutes each day and have now worked up to around 20/25 minutes. I try to do the home exercises four days each week and if I don’t get around to them I make an effort to go out for a walk.

I look forward to my Thursday class, not just for the exercises, but for meeting up with the new friends I have made. It is great to be with a group of people who understand how you are feeling.  Who knew you can have good days and bad ones and are there for you no matter how you feel.  The cup of tea or coffee and the banter before the class starts (and during it) is for me as therapeutic as the exercises.

I don’t know what awaits me in the future but as long as I can carry on it will include exercise as I know it is essential to get my lungs working to the best of their ability. Undoubtedly this will be a contributing factor to prolonging my life.

-by Derek Gallagher


For more information about the Exercise, COPD & Me programme visit our website or call 01 209 6889. Siel Bleu’s Exercise, COPD & Me project is run in conjunction with COPD Support Ireland and designed in conjunction with medical professions. Huge thank you to Derek for sharing his story with us. If you’d like to submit a story, we’d love to hear it, please email  



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