While there’s no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), exercise can improve COPD symptoms and help you feel better.

Breathing difficulties can make people with COPD feel like they can’t exercise or that it’s unsafe. But doing the right exercises at the right intensity can help.

Guidelines from the American Lung Association recommend 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise for three to four days a week for people with COPD.

Your doctor may encourage physical activity because it can improve shortness of breath and other COPD symptoms. Before you start a new routine, ask them which activities to try and what to avoid.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of progressive lung diseases that block airflow and make it hard to breathe. These lung diseases include:

Symptoms of COPD include:

  • shortness of breath
  • frequent coughing
  • tightness in the chest

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, nearly 16 million people in the United States have COPD, and more people have it but don’t know it.

A combination of breathing exercises and physical activity can help improve symptoms of COPD.

Breathing exercises

Before starting an exercise program, it’s helpful to practice breathing exercises for COPD. Doing these regularly can help make physical exertion easier and more comfortable.

If you have moderate to severe COPD, your doctor may first refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Breathing exercises may include pursed lip breathing and belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing.

Physical exercises

Good physical activity choices for people with COPD include aerobic or cardiovascular exercises as well as upper body resistance or weight training to help strengthen the heart, lungs, and surrounding respiratory muscles.

The following are eight types of exercises that are good options for people with COPD:

Always warm up and stretch before exercising and cool down afterward. This reduces stress on your heart, muscles, and joints.

Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. For example, you might begin by exercising for 10 minutes two times a week and work up to 30 minutes four times a week.

Aim to keep your heart rate at 50% to 80% of your maximum heart rate (which is 220 minus your age) while exercising. This may be difficult for people with COPD but should still be a goal to work toward.

It’s never a bad idea for anyone to monitor their heart rate during exercise.

Exercise can’t reverse lung damage, but it can improve your physical endurance and strengthen your respiratory muscles. This can help you feel better physically and mentally. You’ll be able to participate in more activities without losing your breath or getting tired.

Inactivity can cause a decline in cardiovascular function and muscle mass. Over time, you may find yourself more and more breathless every time you exert yourself. Everyday activities might become more challenging.

It takes time to build cardiovascular endurance and strengthen your respiratory muscles. That’s why it’s important to be consistent and establish a regular exercise routine.

You might feel like you can stop workouts once you’re breathing better, but if you stop using those muscles regularly, shortness of breath will likely return.

The RPE scale is designed to measure the intensity of your exercise. It’s a simple way to rate your own level of difficulty for a specific physical activity. This can help you monitor your exertion, stay in the safe zone, and track your improvement.

Once you receive a COPD diagnosis, you’ll likely take prescription medication to manage symptoms and improve your breathing. Your doctor may prescribe different types of medications, such as pills, bronchodilators, and inhaled corticosteroids.

These medications help relax the muscles around your airway and reduce inflammation. Depending on the severity of your COPD, you may need oxygen therapy to ensure there’s enough oxygen in your bloodstream.

A history of cigarette smoking causes about 75% of COPD cases. But other factors can play a role, too.

Long-term exposure to certain types of dust, chemicals, and fumes (often in the workplace) can also increase the risk.

COPD can also develop in people who have never smoked or been exposed to pollutants. The disease can develop if you have a deficiency of alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), a protein in your bloodstream. If your body lacks AAT, your white blood cells may attack your lungs, resulting in lung damage.

The right exercises can help improve symptoms of COPD and your quality of life. Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. They may give you specific information about how to exercise safely based on your individual health profile.