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Playing harmonica can help patients with lung problems

Playing a musical instrument can be fun, but for people with lung problems, it can also offer them a big health benefit.
November 7, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Playing a musical instrument can be fun, but for people with lung problems, it can also offer them a big 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.

Rawdon was a professional cellist for 30 years. More recently, he took up the harmonica.

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

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

"My scores were always substantially elevated after playing the harmonica," said Rawdon.

Rawdon 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 with the Mayo Clinic Florida.

Keller says 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, that disease will be better," said Keller.

The repetitive tones make the muscles work. Keller says 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," said Rawdon.

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


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