Breathing difficulties can make people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) feel they can’t exercise. But your doctor may encourage physical activity, as it can improve shortness of breath and other COPD symptoms.
Inactivity, on the other hand, 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.
As a result, ordinary tasks like cleaning the house or playing with kids may trigger coughing and wheezing. This can affect your quality of life, causing increasingly sedentary behavior, loss of independence, and even depression.
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, and you’ll be able to participate in more activities without losing your breath or getting tired.
It takes time to build up cardiovascular endurance and to strengthen your respiratory muscles. It’s important to be consistent and establish a regular exercise routine.
Some people make the mistake of stopping their workouts once they’re breathing better. If you revert to inactivity, shortness of breath will likely return.
Before starting any new type of exercise, make sure you check with your doctor. If you have moderate to severe COPD, your doctor may first refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
Also, if you use oxygen, your doctor may offer instructions on how to increase your oxygen flow rate during workouts to ensure your body receives enough oxygen.
Before kicking off an exercise program, it’s helpful to practice breathing exercises for people living with COPD. Done regularly, these can help make physical exertion easier and more comfortable.
Next, choose a couple of types of exercise or activities that you truly enjoy. Find a workout partner to meet up with regularly. This will make a big difference in your ability to stick with it.
Good 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 exercise that are good options for people with COPD:
- jumping rope
- low-impact aerobics
- resistance training (with hand weights or bands)
Always warm up and stretch before exercising and cool down afterward. This reduces stress on your heart, muscles, and joints.
Start off slow and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. You might begin with a goal of working up to 30 minutes, four times a week.
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 own exertion, stay in the safe zone, and track your own improvement.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of progressive lung diseases that block air flow and make it hard to breathe. These lung diseases include:
- chronic bronchitis
- refractory non-reversible asthma
Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, frequent coughing, and tightness in the chest. According to the COPD Foundation, this condition affects an estimated 30 million people in the United States.
Once diagnosed with COPD, you’ll likely take prescription medication to control symptoms and improve your breathing. Different types of medicine may be prescribed, 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 condition, you may need oxygen therapy to ensure there’s enough oxygen in your bloodstream.
Up to 90 percent of COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. 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 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 a certain protein in your bloodstream. If your body lacks this protein, your white blood cells may attack your lungs, resulting in lung damage.
The right exercise can help improve symptoms of COPD and your quality of life. But 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.
You should aim to keep your heart rate at 50 to 80 percent 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.