COPD: The benefits of exercising safely

Reap the benefits of exercise by following a few safety tips.

If you have COPD and trouble breathing, it may seem hard to exercise. But regular exercise can improve your overall strength and strengthen your breathing muscles.

You might be afraid of becoming short of breath when you're active. But it's normal to have some shortness of breath during activity. And if you avoid activity, you'll further limit your ability to be active.

It may help energize you to know some of the benefits of physical activity when you have COPD. And safety tips may help ease any worries you have.

Before increasing your activity level, it's also important to talk to your doctor about what activities are appropriate for you.

Benefits of physical activity when you have COPD

If you have COPD, physical activity can help you:

  • Gain and maintain muscle strength.
  • Improve how efficient your muscles are.
  • Strengthen your breathing muscles, helping them work longer and better.
  • Limit the amount of oxygen you need.
  • Boost your self-confidence and ease anxiety and depression.
  • Increase your energy level.
  • Adjust your body to feeling sleepy or fatigued.

Safety tips

If you have COPD:

  • Talk to your doctor. If you're increasing your activity level, first talk to your doctor about what activities are appropriate for you.
  • Know when to time your medications. Clarify with your doctor whether taking any of your COPD medications before or after exercise would help you achieve your activity goals. If you normally use supplemental oxygen, use it during physical activity, too. Ask your doctor if you'll need to adjust your oxygen flow rate during activity.
  • Don't skip the warmup and cool-down. If you have a regular exercise program, it needs to include three parts: warm-up, conditioning and cool-down. Warmups and cool-downs usually involve doing your activity at a slower pace and reduced intensity than when you're conditioning. Each part is equally important.
  • Pace yourself. Start your exercise program slowly and at a comfortable level. Give your body time to get used to more activity.
  • Avoid overtiring. Don't overdo it. Within an hour after physical activity, you should be able to go back to your normal daily routine.
  • Mix it up, and keep it up. You can lose the benefits of physical activity after just a week or two of no activity. So choose one or two forms of activity or exercise that you like. Switch off between them so that you don't get bored. Make physical activity a regular part of your life.
  • Rest when you're ill. If you get sick, rest and allow yourself time to recover. If you miss more than two or three activity sessions in a row, when you get back to it, start at a lower level of intensity for a shorter time. Return to your usual level of activity as soon as you can do so comfortably.

Be aware of your breathing

During physical activity, be mindful about your breathing. Breathe out through pursed lips, by making a small O shape with your lips, as if you're going to blow out a candle. Exhale through your pursed lips at least twice as long as you inhale. For example, if you inhale for two seconds, exhale for four seconds. Breathe out during the hardest part of the activity or exercise. Focus on continuing your normal breathing rhythm when you're active.

To be safe, before increasing your activity level, talk to your doctor about what's right for you and any concerns you have. With time and regular activity, you'll be on your way to reaping the benefits and breathing a bit easier.

March 01, 2019 See more In-depth