Does Exercise Help COPD?

Getting more exercise sounds like healthy advice most of the time. But what if you’re suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?


Commonly referred to as COPD, this disease includes conditions like bronchitis and emphysema which lead to symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.


While exercise does help COPD, some people are faced with the reality that movement and exercise require more airflow—which makes breathing even more difficult. For someone with COPD who hasn’t exercised regularly or built up stamina, this can make an exercise program feel even more unreachable. Because of this reality, someone may question if exercise helps COPD. With guidance and patience, however, progress can be made with exercise.



Choose Exercises that work for you

Just like one shoe doesn’t fit all, neither does exercise. Staying active or just moving can be enough at the start. Exercise can be low impact or require a rigorous workout. More importantly, choose an exercise with your COPD severity in mind.


Some options include:

  • Stretching
  • Walking
  • Strengthening
  • Conditioning
  • Stair climbing


Benefits to exercising include building physical endurance, strengthening muscles that support the respiratory system, and contributing to overall feelings of well-being and accomplishment. 


Over time, exercise will help by decreasing breathlessness through improved strength and tolerance.



How to Exercise

Before starting any exercise program, it’s always a good idea to visit with your primary care doctor or care team. They can help you evaluate your own abilities and set short- and long-term goals as part of an overall health plan.


Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set a regular schedule. At the start, this may mean once or twice per week for only 10 minutes. Or maybe you feel like every other day for 30 minutes works for you. The key is to be consistent and schedule your time to make it a priority.
  • Begin each session with a warm-up period, which helps the body transition from rest to exercise and improves flexibility.
  • The conditioning phase is when you’re most active. Visit with your primary care doctor to learn how to check your heart rate during this time.
  • Just like a warm-up phase, a cool-down phase helps the body gradually return to a state of rest. Walking after running or stretching after an exercise class are examples of how to step down the activity. Stopping abruptly or sitting down can result in feeling lightheaded or even dizzy.
  • If distance or schedule prevents you from joining a regular in-person exercise class, a good option is a virtual workout. We welcome visitors to our virtual classes that offer flexibility and motivation.


Make Exercise Fun!

An exercise routine can become part of any lifestyle. Since the nature of chronic COPD affects emotional and mental health, exercise brings an added benefit beyond the physical. Exercise improves mood, wellbeing, lowers stress, and provides social interaction.


Here are a few ideas to make exercise fun:

  • Invite an exercise buddy
  • Incorporate your favorite active pastimes, like biking or light trail hiking
  • Change routines and activities to prevent boredom or monotony
  • Change routines with the seasons to take full advantage of the outdoors




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Content contained on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult your health care provider before beginning any new fitness or dietary plan. References provided are for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Should you have any health-related questions, you should contact your health care provider.