Why Picking up This One Instrument Could Save Your Life If You Have COPD

Lung disease patients could live longer, healthier lives by exploring their musical sides.

The humble harmonica could be a lifesaver for patients who have damaged lungs, say researchers at Monongahela Valley Hospital in Monongahela, PA. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by poor airflow and chronic bronchitis, with coughing, mucus buildup, and emphysema. Make sure you know these seven subtle signs of COPD.

Monongahela Valley Hospital’s “Better Breathers Club” offers a class called Harmonics for Health that was based on a program developed by the COPD Foundation. Knowing how to strengthen lungs is key to helping people with chronic lung disease live longer, healthier lives. (Here are healthy foods for your lungs that can help you breathe easier.)


“A harmonica is a good way to get air in and a good way to get air out of the lungs. The more air you get out with COPD, the more you can get in,” explains retired music teacher Rich Pantaleo, who conducts the class, as reported in Observer-Reporter. “Of all the musical instruments, the harmonica is the only one that deals with COPD,” he adds.

Playing the harmonica involves deep inhales and exhales, which doesn’t just produce a sound we all associate with blues music. It also exercises and strengthens the breathing muscles, making it a COPD treatment.

Harmonics for Health encourages patients to practice either the pursed-lip breathing (PLB) technique or diaphragmatic breathing while playing. PLB helps to rid the lungs of carbon dioxide and create more space for bigger, fuller breaths. “Basically, diaphramatic breathing is taking a breath from your belly, especially with a harmonica in hard,” says Pantaleo. “You can think of that as the best way breathe. And by making music, you don’t think of it as work.”

(By the way, did you know breathwork can make your life more positive?)

You don’t need to be able to read music to take the class: Sheet music with arrows pointing upward tells patients to exhale, while arrows point downward direct them to inhale.”I like playing the harmonica,” says one patient, Kathy Amos, who quit a 40-year smoking habit two years ago. “It’s amazing. I can feel the difference,” she says. “And you don’t ever have to be embarrassed by what you sound like because breathing is the most important thing.”

While there are no hard and fast rules for how often COPD patients should play harmonica, Pantaleo encourages them to do what they can within their own health limits. “Find a song on TV or a jingle and play it,” he says. “Even if you practice just two minutes every day, I’d be very happy.”

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