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Five Thing COPD Sufferers Should Know about Exercise

May2021image006It’s understandable why many people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are hesitant to exercise – they are challenged enough with their breathing. However, if done correctly, physical activity can improve COPD symptoms.

“People with COPD have shortness of breath when they exercise,” says Daniel Ouellette, MD, a pulmonologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan. “Exercise that involves aerobic activity, such as taking a walk or going to the gym, can provoke significant distress for people with COPD.”

He adds: “I try to reassure people that exercise is beneficial and that it will improve their ability to do things.”

In fact, it’s important for COPD sufferers to get some sort of aerobic exercise, which will help strengthen their heart and lungs. But when starting a new fitness regimen, they should proceed with caution and consider the following five things as they seek to break the potentially dangerous cycle of inactivity.

  1. Consult your doctor: People with COPD should be tested by a physician before starting any kind of physical regimen to ensure it is safe. Once cleared to begin exercising, it is a good idea to contact other specialists, such as a physical therapist, exercise physiologist and personal trainer, to develop a workout plan that meets your specific needs.
  2. Participate in pulmonary rehabilitation: These programs – including exercise, training, and support – help COPD patients better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Because pulmonary rehabilitation is conducted in a safe and supervised setting, it is also a great way for COPD sufferers to develop confidence in their ability to exercise and be active.
  3. Take a walk: According to a study in the Journal of the COPD Foundation, people who walked 60 minutes per day reduced their COPD hospitalization rate by 50%. If you live someplace with extreme weather, try walking around a shopping mall or on a treadmill in a fitness center.
  4. Exercise puts your mind at ease: Robert Benzo, MD, a pulmonologist at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, notes that exercise is “a very good antidepressant,” especially for those dealing with a stressful condition like COPD. “People learn not only to move more,” he added, “but they learn to deal with their emotions as they move.”
  5. Resistance training helps: While aerobic exercise is great for the heart and lungs, resistance training with bands or weights to strengthen muscle is also important because COPD often causes loss of muscle strength or muscle mass.

Added Insights from Dr. Nair: This is extremely helpful information, particularly the discussion around hesitancy to exercise. As Dr. Ouellette notes, people with COPD get short of breath faster than before, which makes them less inclined to exercise. This leads to a vicious cycle of avoiding physical activity, so their bodies become deconditioned, which means they are even more likely to become short of breath and are more easily fatigued when they do attempt to exercise. Which feeds the hesitancy.


I also want to stress how important it is to consult with your doctor first in case they have any reservations about starting more vigorous activity. Other medical problems such as heart disease should also be considered. 

Read the complete story on Everyday Health about the benefits of exercise for those living with COPD.

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