Physical Activity Benefits For COPD Patients

With increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with COPD, it is important to provide different options for exercise that can be tailored to suit each individual.

COPD Patients

In a study published on April 9, 2014 (in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society), the researchers analyzed the health records of more than 6,000 California patients, aged 40 and older. All were hospitalized with COPD during 2011 and 2012. The patients provided information about their physical activity levels.

Compared to inactive patients, those who exercised 150 minutes a week (the equivalent of a half-hour, five days a week) or more were 34 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. Those who exercised less than 150 minutes a week still had a 33 percent lower risk compared to those who didn’t exercise at all, the study found. COPD describes a group of progressive respiratory conditions that include emphysema (disease of the lungs that can make breathing difficult.) and chronic bronchitis.

In another study, Scientists found that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients without regular walking regimens had about twice the rate of hospitalizations triggered by the condition compared to those who maintained the highest levels of physical activity. This was defined as walking between roughly two and four miles each day.

Another study conducted back in 2012 showed that the gentle movements of Sun-style tai chi (SSTC) can improve the lives and boost the exercise endurance of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Compared to some other styles of tai chi, SSTC involves less difficult movements, such as less deep-knee bending and single-leg standing, which may make it more suitable for older people.

These studies clearly indicate the need for a Pulmonary rehabilitation program of exercises for COPD patients to help them build their physical fitness.

Pulmonary Rehab Guidelines for COPD

Pulmonary health experts have issued guidelines for pulmonary rehabilitation programs to follow. These guidelines are based on the best available studies of pulmonary rehab and its benefits for people with COPD.

Some of the recommendations in the most well-recognized pulmonary rehab guidelines are:

  • Both high-intensity and low-intensity pulmonary rehab exercise programs are effective. But in general, the more vigorous the exercise, the better.
  • All pulmonary rehab exercise programs should include leg exercises.
  • Arm exercises should be “unsupported,” working the arms against gravity as well as resistance.
  • People with low oxygen levels should use their supplemental oxygen during pulmonary rehab exercises.
  • Oxygen during high-intensity exercises may help people with normal oxygen levels make gains in endurance.
  • Pulmonary rehab can help people with lung diseases other than COPD, such as interstitial lung disease.

There is no evidence to show one exercise program is better than another. Although “more is better” when it comes to pulmonary rehab exercises, some people may be better able to maintain a lower-intensity exercise program for the long term. Continued exercise is important, even after completing rehab.

COPD Patients

Breathing during activity

Always breathe slowly to save your breath. Inhale through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. This warms and moisturizes the air you breathe and at the same time filters it. Exhale through pursed lips.

  • Breathe out slowly and gently through pursed lips. This permits more complete lung action when the oxygen you inhale is exchanged for the carbon dioxide you exhale.
  • Try to inhale for two seconds and exhale for four seconds. You might find slightly shorter or longer periods are more natural for you. If so, just try to breathe out twice as long as you breathe in.
  • Exercise will not harm your lungs. When you experience shortness of breath during an activity, this is an indication that your body needs more oxygen. If you slow your rate of breathing and concentrate on exhaling through pursed lips, you will restore oxygen to your system more rapidly.
Walking guidelines
  • Start with a short walk. See how far you can go before you become breathless. Stop and rest whenever you are short of breath.
  • Count the number of steps you take while you inhale. Then exhale for twice as many steps. For example, if you inhale while taking two steps, exhale through pursed lips while taking the next four steps. Learn to walk so breathing in and exhaling out will become a habit once you find a comfortable breathing rate.
  • Try to increase your walking distance. If you can set specific goals, you’ll find you can go farther every day. Many people have found that an increase of 10 feet a day is a good goal.
  • Set reasonable goals. Don’t walk so far that you can’t get back to your starting point without difficulty breathing. Remember, if you are short of breath after limited walking, stop and rest.
  • Never overdo it. Always stop and rest for two or three minutes when you start to become short of breath.
Stair climbing

COPD Patients

  • Hold the handrail lightly to keep your balance and to help yourself climb.
  • Take your time.
  • Step up while exhaling or breathing out with pursed lips. Place your whole foot flat on each step. Go up two steps with each exhalation.
  • Inhale or breathe in while taking a rest before the next step.
  • Going downstairs is much easier. Hold the handrail and place each foot flat on the step. Count the number of steps you take while inhaling, and take twice as many steps while exhaling.

Exercise cannot reverse lung disease but it can reverse de-conditioning and improve your quality of life.


The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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