7 Tips for Exercising with COPD

What to know

If chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) leaves you feeling tired and breathless, exercising may be the last thing you want to do. But the latest research shows exercise can be very beneficial. Here are seven tips to help you get started.

1. Start out slowly

Begin walking slowly at a comfortable pace for a short period (start with 5 to 10 minutes daily) three to five days a week. Do not increase walking time until you can do it the entire time without stopping to rest. Then increase walking time by 1 to 2 minutes each week.

2. Choose what you enjoy

There are many daily physical activities that provide your body with exercise, including gardening, golfing, or even shopping. If you like ballroom dancing, swimming, yoga, or Pilates, ask your doctor if they’re good options for you.

3. Use your oxygen

If you haven’t previously exercised, check with your doctor before starting to be sure it’s OK. If your doctor has prescribed oxygen for regular use, be sure to use it when you exercise because it will help relieve breathlessness.

4. Listen to your body

Stop exercising if you feel dizzy or weak, have palpitations, become short of breath, or experience discomfort. If you are in a great deal of pain, call your doctor.

5. Watch the weather

Don’t exercise outside on high-ozone days or on days that are too cold, hot, or humid. Extreme temperatures can make breathing difficult. But don't let the bad weather stop you—you can always walk around your local mall if you can’t exercise outdoors.

6. Be mindful of medications

If your medications change, ask your doctor whether the adjustment will affect your ability to exercise.

7. Keep it going

If you stop exercising regularly, all the gains you made will be lost. If you’re exercising as part of a pulmonary rehab program, you’ll need to incorporate your exercise routine into your daily life. If you’re a home-based exerciser, try some new workouts so you don’t get bored.

What else to know

While exercise does not directly improve lung function in those with COPD, it helps build your endurance, which improves how well your body uses oxygen. That means you won’t have to use as much energy to breathe, and you’ll be able to do more before you start feeling tired.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.