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Can Exercise Improve COPD Symptoms?

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often struggle to start an exercise routine. Because COPD can cause difficulty breathing, any type of activity that elevates the heart rate may feel daunting. What many people don’t realize, however, is that an appropriate exercise routine can help to improve COPD symptoms. For people struggling to pull the trigger on a workout program, here are some tips for where to start.

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic inflammatory disease that is caused by overexposure to irritants in the air. Typically, the root cause traces back to cigarette smoke. People with the condition may experience wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Having the disease raises a person’s risk for heart disease, lung cancer, and other serious medical conditions.

Exercise recommendations

Because COPD causes airflow obstruction, people with the disease may find exercise challenging. However, exercise has been shown to improve COPD symptoms, as well as offer several additional health benefits. People with the disease should always speak with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine.

How to begin

Exercise can be grouped into 3 categories: stretching, strengthening, and aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise may be the most challenging, as these activities typically elevate the heart rate. People may benefit from thinking of exercise intensity on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no exertion at all and 10 being a maximum effort. People with COPD should aim to perform exercise at a moderate intensity, with heart rate elevating to around a 3-4 on the intensity scale.

Avoiding shortness of breath

Because people with COPD have difficulty breathing, knowing how to breathe during exercise is essential. Breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips may help slow breathing down. Breathe in for about 2 seconds and out for 4-6 seconds. This helps to calm the central nervous system and improves carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange.

Exercise types

All good workout routines should incorporate a warmup and cooldown. Complete a dynamic warmup for 5-10 minutes before the activity to avoid injury and slightly elevate the heart rate. After the workout, focus on deep breathing and stretching to calm the body back down. Some of the best activities for patients with COPD can include swimming, skating, strength training, or bicycling.

Get started today

People with COPD can improve lung strength and decrease coughing and wheezing through the right exercise routine. Knowing how to work out and how to breathe can help people get started. Patients with COPD should speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program.