Cardiopulmonary Connection


Cardiopulmonary Connection: What you should know about the health of your heart and lungs

By Biju Mathews, M.D., Interventional Cardiologist, and Terri Brewis, PMC Respiratory Manager

Cardiopulmonary diseases account for three of the top four causes of death, and more than one-third of all deaths, in the U.S. each year. Much attention is given to the leading cause among men and women: heart disease. (Cancer is No. 2.) Can you name No. 3? 

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the third leading cause of death. In fact, COPD is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide. The disease includes emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis.

Better Together

Cardio refers to the heart, and pulmonary refers to the lungs. Your heart and lungs work together and are dependent on each other to keep you alive and well.

When you breathe in, you inhale oxygen. Blood from the heart circulates throughout your body and picks up the oxygen—the fuel that makes your body cells work—from your lungs. Then when you breathe out, you exhale carbon dioxide, the byproduct of the work done by your body’s cells.

So when your heart or lungs are diseased, your body has to work harder.

Exercise Does Wonders

What can you do to manage your COPD? Surprisingly, you can help yourself by exercising. That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. Physical activity that is rhythmic and repetitive and challenges the cardiac and pulmonary systems helps increase blood flow to the muscles for an extended time. That promotes cardiopulmonary fitness. Aerobic exercise:

•Produces energy and uses oxygen as you move your arms and legs

•Increases your breathing, heart rate and endurance

•Increases your fitness level and capacity for exercise

•Helps prevent cardiovascular disease, control diabetes and obesity, reduce blood pressure and improve your mood

Endurance exercises increase your heart rate and breathing for an extended time. These include walking, swimming, bicycling, cycling on a stationary cycle, tennis, dancing, cleaning, gardening and yard work.

Be sure to start slowly and increase gradually, starting with about five minutes of endurance exercise. Work your way up to 10 minutes, but your goal is 30 minutes three to five times per week.

Vaccinations to Help You Stay Healthy

You can help protect yourself against cardiopulmonary diseases by getting the right shots. Vaccinations are used to trigger your immune system to prevent life-threatening disease. Vaccines expose you to very small, very safe amounts of disease that you are likely to encounter.

Babies get a number of vaccinations that will prevent or lessen the chance of getting childhood diseases that once were devastating. It’s important that you continue with certain vaccinations as an adult, especially if you have cardiopulmonary disease.

Flu vaccines are readily available to everyone in the fall, and are highly recommended for anyone age 50 and older. A yearly flu shot will lessen your chance of getting the flu, or, if you do fall ill, your symptoms should be less severe. A 2010 Centers for Disease Con-trol and Prevention report showed that seasonal flu might lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure or COPD. Thousands of people die every year directly or indirectly from the flu.

The pneumonia vaccine helps prevent many types of infection, including pneumonia, bacteremia and meningitis. You should get a pneumonia shot if you are age 65 or older; the good news is a single shot should be all you ever need. Like influenza, pneumococcal infections kill thousands of people in the U.S. each year, most older than 65.


You can also help yourself and your healthcare team if you use the “Ask Me 3” questions. (Turn to page 50 to learn more about this.)

Ultimately, you are responsible for how you prevent or manage cardiopulmonary disease. You choose to exercise, or not. And you choose the food you eat and the way in which you take care of your health.

Take Control of Your Lung Health

Want to learn more about COPD? Go to Register online and review the information you want on a variety of cardiopulmonary diseases. Some information in this article came from, and