I have COPD. Why is it important for me to exercise?

If you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), regular exercise can help you feel better and breathe easier. Exercise strengthens the breathing muscles in your chest which helps to ease shortness of breath.

Regular exercise offers many other health benefits for people living with COPD. Exercising regularly can:

  • reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups. Exercise helps to keep your body healthy and to fight off infections.
  • help to maintain a healthy body weight. Extra weight (especially in the stomach area) can press on the muscles used for breathing and make it harder to breathe.
  • prevent you from falling into a “downward spiral.” Sitting still is hard on your body. It weakens your heart and lungs and makes your muscles less fit. Inactivity can actually make you feel more tired and short of breath, which makes you even less motivated to stay active.
  • reduce feelings of stress and loneliness. Going out for a walk not only helps to strengthen your lungs, but it also boosts your mental and emotional well-being.
  • help to maintain your independence. Regular activities like walking and breathing exercises can help give you the energy to continue doing day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping and cooking meals.

How do I get started?

It's important to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Your doctor can tell you which activities are best for you and help you to plan an exercise program based on your abilities.

If you're a beginner, you might find exercising hard at first because COPD can make you feel very tired. But over time, as your lungs and heart become stronger, it will get easier. Remember, the more activity you do, the more you'll be able to do.

Keep in mind that your exercise program doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Stretching, breathing exercises and a daily walk, are a great way to start. The key is to find something you enjoy and then stick with it.

Is pulmonary rehabilitation right for you?

Pulmonary rehab is more than just an exercise program. It's a specially designed program that includes exercise training, nutrition advice, education about COPD and how to manage it, and counselling. Pulmonary rehab involves a team approach - usually, the team includes doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists and dieticians, who work together to manage the different parts of the program. The goal of pulmonary rehab is to improve your quality of life. Ask your doctor whether a pulmonary rehab program is right for you.

Can I still exercise if I'm on oxygen therapy?

Yes, you can learn how to exercise even if you are on oxygen therapy. And for the most part, oxygen therapy doesn't have to limit the types of activities you enjoy. Many COPD patients who are on oxygen are able to lift light weights, bike and dance. Some COPD patients need supplemental or “extra” oxygen only during exercise. Others need oxygen all of the time. Whatever your needs, your health care team can give you practical tips on how to choose the right activities for you.

Exercise checklist

  • Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program. Your doctor can help you to decide the level of exercise that's right for you and may advise you to take medication before exercising.
  • Do what you love. If you do activities you enjoy, you'll be more likely to continue doing them. Try a few different activities until you find one you like.
  • Beware of COPD triggers (things that can set off your symptoms). These triggers can include smog, pollution, wind, cold or humid air. Exercise indoors temporarily to avoid these triggers.
  • Establish an exercise schedule and set goals. If you are new to exercise, you might work toward walking 10 minutes around your house, and build gradually from there.
  • Pace yourself. If you feel dizzy or unwell, stop what you're doing and rest. Reaching your fitness goals will take time, especially if you are a beginner.
  • Give yourself credit! By taking active steps to improve your fitness, you are making your life with COPD more liveable.

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