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Have COPD? Exercise Helps Keep You Out of the Hospital

Flare-ups caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can lead to hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Common symptoms of COPD, such as shortness of breath, chest tightness and fatigue, can make it difficult to exercise, yet exercise can alleviate COPD symptoms and enhance quality of life. According to pulmonologist Kathrin Nicolacakis, MD, adhering to a weekly exercise routine will improve the health of individuals experiencing mild, moderate and severe COPD.

may2017_2For those with mild COPD, Nicolacakis recommends individuals adhere to a, “light cardio program, such as walking or swimming.” Participating in exercise lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure to ensure lungs don’t work as hard. As chest muscles are strengthened and breathing improves, individuals become less susceptible to flare-ups. Exercise can also support weight loss, which helps lungs function more easily.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs can also have a major impact on the lives of individuals with moderate and severe COPD. These programs equip individuals with a team of experts, including a respiratory therapist specialized in exercise physiology, who will test for exercise capacity. The team will then create a personalized pulmonary rehabilitation program that focuses on, “breathing exercises, cardio exercise and resistance training.”

Once the individual completes the program, the team will reassess their exercise capacity and help to “develop a year-long exercise plan to sustain” progress. The benefits of completing a pulmonary rehabilitation program include reduced rates of exacerbations, flare-ups, ER visits, anxiety, and instances of shortness of breath.

“Patients report feeling better at the end of the program. They also have fewer hospitalizations than patients who don’t complete rehabilitation,” Nicolacakis said. “If you’re interested in pulmonary rehabilitation, ask your doctor to refer you to a program that follows American Heart Association guidelines. Choose either a COPD program or one that is staffed by people experienced in COPD.”

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