Physical Activity and COPD

Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, even if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Benefits of Exercise

You might feel like it is not safe, or even possible to exercise with COPD, but the right amount and type of exercise has many benefits.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program and discuss the best exercise goals for you. As you get started, it is important to not overdo it. Exercising for too long or too intense may cause injury, shortness of breath or other COPD related symptoms. If you do not exercise regularly, gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. Each person may have different exercise goals. In general, moderate exercise for people living with COPD may be 20-30 minutes of exercise for three to four days a week.

Moderate exercise can improve:

You can also ask your provider about the types of activities you should avoid and steps to take if you are starting to have COPD-related symptoms. This should be added to your COPD Action and Management Plan.

Before you start exercising, talk to your healthcare provider about what types and amounts of exercise are right for you.

What Type of Exercises Are Good for People with COPD?

Pulmonary rehabilitation can be a great way to stay active and learn how to exercise with COPD. This program consists of education and exercise classes that teach you about your lungs and your disease, and how to exercise and be more active with less shortness of breath. The classes take place in a group setting, giving you the chance to meet others with your condition while both giving and receiving support.

Stretching relaxes you and improves your flexibility. It's also a good way to warm up before and cool down after exercising. Practice holding a gentle stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, slowly breathing in and out. Repeat this a few times.

Aerobic exercise is good for your heart and lungs and allows you to use oxygen more efficiently. Walking, biking and swimming are great examples of aerobic exercise. Try and do this type of exercise for about a half an hour a few times a week.

Resistance training makes all your muscles stronger, including the ones that help you breathe. It usually involves weights or resistance bands, but you don't need to go to a gym to do resistance training. Ask your doctor or respiratory therapist to show you some exercises you can do at home. To get stronger, do these exercises three to four times a week.

Remember, when you are active, it is important to eat healthy and drink plenty of water. If you exercise outside, avoid exercising on days with extreme temperatures or weather conditions. You should also pay attention to the air quality index.

It is generally safe for people with COPD to exercise but you should not exercise if you:

  • Have a fever or infection 
  • Feel nauseated 
  • Have chest pain 
  • Are out of oxygen 
  • Have increased shortness of breath or worsening of other COPD-related symptoms 
  • Feel dizzy, weak or unsteady

Contact your provider right away if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Should I Use My Oxygen When I Exercise?

Yes! If you use supplemental oxygen, you should exercise with it. Your healthcare provider may adjust your flow rate for physical activity, which will be different than your flow rate when you are resting. Work with your provider to adjust your oxygen for physical activity.

Breathing During Exercise

  • Remember to inhale (breathe in) before starting the exercise and exhale (breathe out) through the most difficult part of the exercise. 
  • Take slow breaths and pace yourself. 
  • Purse your lips while breathing out. You can practice deep breathing exercises like pursed lip or belly breathing.

Getting Started

If you want guidance on starting an exercise routine, you can contact the specialists listed below. Make sure the specialist is certified by an exercise-related professional organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine.

  • Physical therapist
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Personal trainer

There are many places to exercise. For example:

  • In your home (make sure the space is safe)
  • Around your neighborhood
  • Local fitness center
  • Local shopping mall (especially in the morning, prior to opening)
  • YMCA
  • Community center
  • Wellness center
  • Yoga or Pilates studio

Talk to the staff at your fitness facility about your COPD before you start exercising.

Caregivers Tip

Exercising together is a great way to support someone with COPD. Buy resistance bands, free weights and other home exercise equipment, so both of you can do simple exercises while watching TV and listening to music. You can also go on walks. Many people with COPD like walking in malls because they are flat, air-conditioned and there are many places to rest.

Ways to Stay Active

  • Try to get up and out each day, even just to walk to another room, take a shower or get the mail. Every little bit helps.
  • Light stretching is a great way to stay mobile and avoid over exertion.
  • Participate in activities you enjoyed before you were diagnosed. You may need to modify them, but they can still be enjoyed.
  • Set achievable goals for yourself such as taking a short walk every day.
  • Check out exercise programs on your television, online or cellphone apps.
  • Participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • Do you have questions and concerns about managing your daily activities like bathing or dressing? Here are some suggestions.
  • Staying Active with Lung Disease

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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: May 23, 2023

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