The Best Exercises for COPD Patients

Deborah Leader RN of has an excellent article about exercises for people with COPD.

Shortness of breath, weakness, and lack of energy often tie into fear of exercise for those with lung problems. Learning the basics of exercising when you have COPD will get you well on your way to living a healthier lifestyle and simply feeling better every day.

There are many reasons why exercise is beneficial for people with COPD including:

  • Helping your body to utilize the oxygen you breathe in more efficiently
  • Increasing your energy level and reducing fatigue
  • Increasing walking distance
  • Increasing your strength
  • Reducing shortness of breath
  • Reducing depression and other mood disorders
  • Improving cognitive function
  • Managing weight if you are over- weight (excess weight means a greater requirement for oxygen in the body)
  • Promoting socialization (people with COPD often become isolated from others)
  • Fewer hospitalizations and reduced exacerbations.

In order to obtain lasting results from exercise, you must develop a life-long commitment to it. This means exercising even when you don’t feel like it. The following steps will help you assess your own personal exercise needs:

  1. Talk to your doctor. If there is not a pulmonary rehabilitation program in your area you could attend, speak with your health care provider to make sure the exercise program you choose is safe. Your doctor can discuss possible alternatives that may better suit you and advise you on oxygen use.
  2. Set goals. You will reap the greatest rewards from exercising if you work toward a reachable goal. Determine what your goals are by writing them down. Keep your goals in mind when you hit a rough spot that may cause you to feel Whether your goals are to breathe better or to rely less on others, identifying your goals will help you better accomplish them. Many people skip this step, thinking the time to journal exercise less important than actually doing the exercise, but making and keeping a record of your progress is wonderful incentive to continue on those days when you just don’t feel like exercising.
  3. Exercise with a friend/be accountable to If you have someone who can exercise alongside you, all the better. Being accountable to another can help bridge the gap on those days you’re tempted to give up.
  1. Identify how far you can go. When you first start to exercise, you may quickly become fatigued. Don’t be discouraged. It is important that you initially determine the level of exercise that feels safe and comfortable for As your endurance level builds, you will be able to exercise longer with less effort.

Types of Exerciseswomen taking a dance style workout class

Flexibility exercises are designed to help you improve your range of motion, posture, and breathing. You should do these before and after exercising. Flexibility exercises include stretches of your neck, shoulders, and calves. Yoga is another form of flexibility exercise that may be beneficial.

Improving your endurance helps improve the function of your lungs, as well as your heart and blood vessels. In the long run, these are the best types of exercises to help you withstand activities of daily living. Endurance exercises (often called cardio-vascular endurance) include walking, biking and swimming, among others.

Help build and strengthen your muscles with strength training. Strong muscles will allow you to perform daily activities, such as housework or mowing the lawn, with less effort. Examples of strength training include lifting weights, body weight exercises and working with stretchy bands.

Breathing during Exercise

Understanding how to properly breathe during exercise will improve your chances of success and sticking with a program. Doing pursed-lip breathing during exercise will help you maintain adequate oxygen levels and reduce shortness of breath. In addition, always try to exhale, or breathe out, during the most difficult part of the exercise, and inhale, or breathe in, during the easiest part of the exercise. For example, exhale when you raise your arms above your head and inhale as you lower them.

Using the Dyspnea Scale

The dyspnea scale measures shortness of breath and ranges from 0 to 10 (10 being very, very severe). You can use the dyspnea scale during exercise to determine how hard you are working to breathe, and then pace yourself accordingly. For example, if your shortness of breath is slight, you are at a level 1. If your shortness of breath is moderate, you are at a level 3. You are at a level 5 if you feel that your shortness of breath is severe, and if you cannot catch your breath at all, you are at a level 10. Keeping your level of dyspnea between levels 3 and 5 is best during exercise unless your doctor or pulmonary rehabilitation team tells you catching his breath

Recognizing Signs of Overexertion

While exercise is strongly encouraged, it’s important to know your limits. Stop exercising if you notice any of the following signs of overexertion:

  • Unusual or an increasing level of shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort or chest pain
  • Burning, pressure, tightness or heaviness in your chest
  • Unusual pain in your jaw, neck, shoulders, arms or back
  • A racing feeling in your heart
  • Heart palpitations (feeling that your heart is skipping a beat)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness; Nausea
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Unusual pain in the joints