Health Beat: Pulmonary rehab: Healing with music

Health Beat: Pulmonary rehab: Healing with music

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Playing a musical instrument can be fun, but for people with lung problems, it can also offer a health benefit.

Music has always been a huge part of Larry Rawdon's life.

"I think it transports people to a different, a better place," said Rawdon, a professional cellist for 30 years.

More recently, Rawdon took up the harmonica.

"I love playing the harmonica. It's a great outlet," Rawdon said.

For Rawdon, however, it's been much more than that. After surviving two lung transplants, he noticed his passion could also be a form of therapy.

"My scores were always substantially elevated after playing the harmonica," said Rawdon, who told his doctor about what he observed on his lung tests.

"I knew I could not just ignore what he was saying because this guy knows what he's talking about," said Dr. Cesar Keller, professor of medicine, medical director, lung transplant program, Mayo Clinic Florida.

Keller said playing the harmonica can strengthen a patient's diaphragm, much like standard rehab exercises do, but the harmonica is more fun and patients are more likely to stick with it.

"If you can keep your respiratory muscles and your diaphragm as strong as possible, the disease will be better," Keller said.

The repetitive tones make the muscles work. Keller said the harmonica isn't a replacement for standard pulmonary therapy, but adding the instrument to the mix could be beneficial.

Rawdon couldn't agree more. 

"I really do think music is oxygen for the soul," he said.

Keller said that, like most rehab programs, harmonica breathing exercises should be done three-to-five times a week.

Rawdon now teaches harmonica lessons to fellow patients as a supplemental pulmonary rehab exercise. Playing the harmonica may also benefit people with other respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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