How to Get & Stay Active When You Have COPD: 10 Steps to Better Fitness

Kathi MacNaughton Health Pro
  • You might think that trying to stay fit and active once you have a diagnosis of COPD makes no sense. After all, if you're struggling to breathe just from getting dressed or eating a meal, how can you even think about exercising?


    I hear you, and I see this struggle in my mother every single day. But the truth is, if you can stay as active as possible, you will feel better and you will breathe easier for a longer time, especially if staying active also helps you keep your weight in a healthy range.


    In previous posts, I've talked about how being overweight can make the business of breathing with COPD a lot tougher. I've also talked about how to incorporate the building blocks of healthy eating into your daily routine -- to maintain a healthy weight and also to have the energy you need to get through each day. Being as active as possible is another step in that plan.

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    It's a Challenge... But It's SO Worth It


    I know staying active is challenging when you have trouble breathing even at rest. But I'm not asking you to run a marathon or win the mile. I'm not even asking you to do anything near to what people without COPD do. But I am suggesting that you move your body as much as you can every single day.


    If you do that, you'll keep your bones, muscles and joints moving and relatively strong for the duration. You'll also strengthen your heart and lungs and help prevent infection and other illnesses that can complicate the course of COPD.


    There are many benefits to being fit, including sleeping better, having more energy, losing weight and reducing depression, for example. So do what you can and don't be afraid to push yourself a little beyond what you think you can do. It'll pay off!


    10 Steps to Getting Fit


    You know your body best, so do what you can from the following list. And also, do check with your doctor before beginning any new activity program.


    1. Start slowly, but DO make a change. Don't overdo it, but do start to make small changes in your daily routine to add activity to it. For instance, if you watch TV, stand up during commercials and walk down the hallway or to the front door a few times, as tolerated. If you drive to the store, park a little farther back in the lot and walk to the door. If even that's too much, then try doing some chair exercise, such as leg lifts or arm raises for 30 seconds at a time, several times a day.


    2. Add more activity as it gets easier. Your tolerance for activity, even if you have COPD, will increase over time as you get more fit. So, when what you've been doing starts to seem easy, then add something more challenging. Maybe you're ready to walk around the block or dance around your living room during TV commercials! Start out with 10 minutes of exercise at a time, and slowly increase to at least 30 minutes a day if you can. Once you've done that, you can also increase the intensity of your activity, if you feel able.


    3. Listen to your body. If you've started slowly, then your body will probably respond positively, but if you find that you're developing excessive soreness, muscle strains or are exhausted, then you may be doing too much too soon. So back down a bit and regroup. Or take a rest day, then get back on the proverbial horse and get going again. But take it slower next time!


    4. Keep an exercise journal. Keeping a log of all you do, no matter how small, can help you notice changes over time. It'll also remind you what you enjoyed and what you didn't, which can help with future planning. Write as much or as little as you want, but do track it!


    5. Find an activity buddy. Staying -- or getting -- active is almost always more fun if you have someone to do it with. So enlist the support of family or friends if you can. There are also many online support groups that can provide a virtual buddy if needed, or even your local fitness center may offer that type of support.

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    6. Ask for professional help. There's nothing wrong with asking for a little professional advice, especially when you're starting out with a chronic illness like COPD. You could ask your doctor, but he or she might not really be that much of an expert in this area. You could also start with a pulmonary rehabilitation center and ask them to make recommendations. Or, you could just consult with a personal trainer who's experienced in working with people with respiratory illnesses and can tailor an activity program to be right for you.


    7. Set realistic and attainable goals. There's a saying: "When we fail to plan, we plan to fail..." If you don't give yourself goals, it's easy to slip off the track and forget all about being active. So, take some time to think about where you want to get to in terms of becoming more active and write your goals down in your activity journal. Goals could be activity related, such as "Able to walk around the block in 20 minutes" or they could be results-oriented, such as "Lose 5 pounds in the next 30 days." Set goals that will be meaningful to you, and then add new ones as you achieve the old ones.


    8. Watch for results. If you've been keeping that activity log, you might be starting to notice the results, but if not, then take time at least once a month to look for them. Are your clothes fitting better? Is it getting easier to breathe when you move around? Do you have less aches and pains now? Are you sleeping more soundly at night?


    9. Take a rest day every week. Make sure you take a day off from planned activity once a week, just to give your body a break and to recharge your batteries. This doesn't mean you should just sit on the couch and vegetate or lie in bed all day. But it does mean that you don't need to plan that walk around the block or whatever you usually do. In other words, keep moving, but keep it at a much lower intensity than usual.


    10. Celebrate your successes. As you become more fit and if you lose weight, you're going to have cause to celebrate. Track your progress towards your goals and when you feel you deserve a reward, then give yourself one! Rewards can be anything that feels special to you, from a fun night out with friends to a new article of clothing to a new music CD or movie DVD you've been wanting. Or anything else (other than unhealthy food!) that you want and can afford!


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    So, there you have it... 10 fairly easy ways to get started on your road to better fitness. Feel free to leave comments about your experience and/or progress!

Published On: April 19, 2010