Improving respiratory function has long been a concern for the Heritage Hall Health and Rehabilitation Center, in Leesburg. But it’s taken on added urgency with the drive to reduce hospital readmissions.

The center launched a new functional breath support and respiratory muscle strength called “Windbreakers” two years ago. Director of Nursing Lynn Winemiller said they wanted to do a little more than asking residents to breathe into a boring apparatus.

“I said, ‘why do we just have to blow into a spirometer? Why don’t we blow through straws and play games?’” Winemiller said. Their speech therapist, Bambi Bryant, seized on that idea and ran with it. “Residents love it. They don’t even realize that they’re expanding their lungs and doing all these things that decrease their risk for readmission or respiratory illness.”

Windbreakers focuses primarily on those with compromised respiratory systems, but all are welcome to partake. Participants spend an hour working on chest-expansion stretches, vocal exercises, singing and resistive breathing. With the latter, they use a collection of toys that include party blowers, kazoos, whistles, horns and recorders. Each session also incorporates five minutes of education, and wraps up with a group game — passing cotton balls with straws or blowing rubber ducks across a cookie sheet covered in water.

Along with bolstering breathing, Heritage Hall says that Windbreakers has also helped its residents engage in activities of daily living, gain independence, enhance their cognitive skills, and increase socialization. It’s improved outcomes, too, decreasing respiratory-related illnesses and return trips to the hospital, Winemiller said.