Do you have COPD? Here’s how you can still exercise

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for lung conditions that block airflow. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two main types of COPD. For people with COPD, physical activity can be challenging because the disease makes breathing difficult. Yet regular exercise can actually improve COPD symptoms.

Do you have COPD? Here’s how you can still exercise

“People with COPD have shortness of breath when they exercise,” says Dr Daniel Ouellette, MD, a pulmonologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan.

“Exercise that involves aerobic activity, such as taking a walk or going to the gym, can provoke significant distress for people with COPD.”

As a result, people with COPD may be less inclined to exercise. That, Dr Ouellette says, leads to a vicious cycle. When people avoid physical activity, their bodies become deconditioned. They are even more likely to experience shortness of breath and fatigue if they try to exercise in the future.

“I try to reassure people that exercise is beneficial and that it will improve their ability to do things,” says Dr Ouellette.

Here are five things to keep in mind if you have COPD and need to break the cycle of inactivity:

Talk to your doctor first

“People with COPD can have other conditions, such as heart disease, where exercise might need to be monitored or carefully regulated,” says Ouellette. “It’s important for a healthcare professional to test people before they embark on an exercise program to make sure it is safe for them.”

Besides your doctor, there are specialists who can help you come up with an exercise routine that’s right for you.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a great starting point

“It’s hard for anyone to embark on an exercise program unless they have some success and some confidence building,” says Dr Ouellette. “What I recommend for most of my patients who have significant COPD is to enrol in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation combines exercise training, education, and support. While it cannot cure lung disease, it can decrease symptoms and improve your quality of life.

“These are structured programs that have testing at the beginning to make sure that exercise is safe,” Ouellette says. “Pulmonary rehabilitation offers supervised exercise in a controlled setting. People can gradually increase the number of things that they do and improve their exercise tolerance.”

Your doctor can refer you to a qualified pulmonary rehab program. When choosing a program, remember that the cost can vary greatly. Find out what your insurance will cover, and if you have to meet certain requirements.

Take a walk

“The best exercise for most of our patients is simply walking,” says Ouellette. “After people compete the basic pulmonary rehab program, I encourage them to try to translate the exercise skills they’ve learned to their everyday activities. Taking a daily walk is a way you can do that.”

According to research published in October 2016 in the Journal of the COPD Foundation, patients who walked at least 60 minutes per day reduced their COPD rehospitalisation rate by 50%.

“In some geographic areas, it’s very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter; and it can be difficult to exercise outside,” Ouellette says. Think of places where you can walk regardless of the weather, such as a shopping mall or fitness centre with an indoor track.

Besides walking, Ouellette also recommends bicycle riding and dancing.

What’s good for the body is good for the mind

Roberto Benzo, MD, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic, points out that exercise has emotional as well as physical benefits. “People learn not only to move more, but they also deal with their emotions as they move,” he says.

Living with COPD can pose emotional challenges, and “exercise is a very good antidepressant,” Dr Benzo adds. “Consistency is important. Treat this time as a moment for you.”

Resistance training is important, too

While aerobic exercise is especially good for the heart and lungs, resistance or strength training helps make muscles stronger.

Resistance training improves muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle groups against external resistance, such as weights or resistance bands.

COPD patients often have a loss of muscle mass or muscle strength,” Ouellette says. “If you add conditioning programs that include strength training, particularly upper body strength, you will have additional benefits.”

Source: Everyday Health