Pulmonary Rehab: Daily Fitness & Exercise
Exercising With COPD
Exercise is an important component of a treatment plan for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you have COPD, regular exercise can improve the way your body uses oxygen, increase your ability to perform physical tasks, help you lose weight if you need to, and improve your overall feeling of well-being.
When you exercise regularly, you will enjoy less shortness of breath and better quality of life, says Barry Make, MD, a pulmonologist and co-director of the COPD program at National Jewish Health in Denver and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. These are great reasons to get moving, even if you struggle with breathing at times.
COPD and Exercise: Getting Started
"Before they start an exercise program, COPD patients need to see their physician and get approval," says Dr. Make.
If you don't know where to start, your doctor or respiratory or physical therapist can help you develop an exercise program that works for you. "For COPD patients, we recommend a strengthening program for major muscle groups and an endurance program for cardiopulmonary exercise," says Phyllis Dibbern, PT, a physical therapist with more than 30 years of experience in pulmonary rehabilitation at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Many COPD patients center their rehabilitation program around exercises like walking, water aerobics, or riding a stationary bike. "The key is lower extremity aerobic exercise," says Make. "Walking is probably the most important [exercise to do], and then there are also stretching and strengthening [exercises]."
Managing Symptoms While Working Out
In addition to carefully selecting your exercise regimen, your prescribed medications can help control your shortness of breath and other COPD symptoms that may occur when you exercise. Your doctor can help you decide what medications to take and when to take them to improve your ability to exercise.
COPD patients often "use a bronchodilator before they exercise," says Jane Whalen-Price, PT, director of rehabilitation services at National Jewish Health. Bronchodilators, such as an albuterol inhaler, act to relax and open up airways. Other people may need supplemental oxygen during exercise, which can be provided through a portable oxygen unit.
Workout Tips for COPD Patients
If you are new to physical activity, start slowly. Do something that doesn't intimidate you or require overexertion, like taking a walk. Then, build from there.
Things to consider when you exercise include:
- Warm up.Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up your heart and muscles by exercising at a slow pace.
- Breathe.Sometimes people tend to hold their breath when they are exercising, so concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations when you exercise, pursing your lips while you breathe. When performing strengthening exercises, inhale before starting the move and exhale during the difficult part of the exercise.
- Recruit a partner.It is important to be able to comfortably talk while you exercise, so chatting with your partner can help you keep your pace under control. Also, having an exercise partner can motivate you to stick with your exercise program.
- Cool down and stretch.Balance out your exercise program with a few minutes of gentle exercise to cool down, followed by a stretching session lasting 5 to 10 minutes and stretching all of your major muscle groups.
- Listen to your body.Don't push yourself too far. If you experience dizziness, weakness, heart palpitations, extreme shortness of breath, or pain while you are exercising, stop immediately and call your doctor.
Exercise can be an important part of staying healthy for COPD patients. With a few precautions and guidance from your doctor and respiratory or physical therapist, exercise can make you stronger and healthier and help you feel good about yourself.
Video: Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Lung Conditions
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