Prior to his diagnosis, Russell Winwood lived a pretty typical, carefree life. Although he had suffered with chronic asthma since an early age he didn’t pay much mind to his health, until suffering a stroke at age 36 which made him consider a different lifestyle. He decided to turn things around and focused on his fitness levels, eventually finding a passion for exercise and athletics.
Over the next eight years he would compete in triathlons, marathons and a half Iron Man before noticing that his endurance levels were decreasing and he was frequently short of breath. After undergoing several tests it was determined that he had severe COPD, which according to the Lung Institute could reduce lung capacity to less than 30%.
As one of the millions unaware of their condition, Russell clearly remembers the moment he was told:
“I first heard of COPD when I was diagnosed, and I was devastated. I wish I understood that this wasn’t a death sentence, and it doesn’t mean you have to give up the things you love. With the support of my wife and family, I vowed that I wouldn’t allow this disease to take control of my life.”
Just six months later, Russell completed his first full Iron Man triathlon, showing the world that COPD is not the end of the road. Unsurprisingly, lifestyle choices and changes in diet had a lot to do with it. Known as his ‘four pillars’, Russell’s advice includes increasing personal knowledge about the condition, seeking the proper medication, having a healthy diet and exercising to help cardio-respiratory fitness levels.
“Whether you have asthma or COPD managing your condition can be difficult but it can be done. Take your medications and exercise as much as you can, eat a healthy diet and keep the weight down. Set yourself a goal to help keep you on track and always remember no matter how tough it gets there’s always someone doing it tougher than you. Put simply, the body will do what the mind tells it to!!”
For those diagnosed with COPD, the mental implications are also strong with patients who feel disconnected from normal life. For Russell, his passion for athletics was what got him through it all - a notion strongly supported by his physician, Dr. Kelly.
“Patients can realise that it is not an immediate death sentence. You know, some people envision themselves in a wheelchair on oxygen. That’s a journey not every patient with COPD has to make. I think it's important to encourage people and say, "Look, this is what you've got. You have to, you know, adapt to it. It doesn't have to -there are some parts you have to adapt to it, it's got to adapt to you. But, you've got to get on and do the things that are important”.