What types of exercise benefit patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? In my opinion, the quick answer is “all of them,” but let’s take a closer look.
According to Harvard Health, the four most important types of exercise — and this is generally speaking, not specifically for COPD — are aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching, and balance. That’s not the breakdown I learned 50 years ago at Glenville State University in West Virginia, but we’ll run with it.
Before we dive in, remember that it’s important to consult your medical team before trying any type of exercise. Doing so can help you stay safe and avoid injury. Of course, the types of exercise or training you do will depend on your physical abilities. Doctors and physical therapists can help you design a good workout regimen for you — and it doesn’t have to be overly intensive. Many resources are also available online.
Table of Contents
Aerobic or endurance exercises
Aerobic exercise increases one’s rate of respiration, which means it boosts the amount of oxygen you’re using. (The National Institute on Aging calls this type of activity endurance exercises.) It improves the health of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
Activities may include brisk walking or jogging, riding a stationary bike, doing yardwork, dancing, swimming, and more. There are also aerobic games, such as pickleball, tennis, baseball, and basketball.
Lifting weights or using resistance bands and other exercise equipment probably comes to mind when thinking about strength training. I consider calisthenics to be a form of strength training that doesn’t require equipment. If you’re old enough to have exercised to the youth fitness song “Chicken Fat,” then you were doing calisthenics.
Strong muscles can make everyday tasks seem less complicated and help to prevent falls.
Using bands or weights allows you to build muscle more efficiently by doing fewer repetitions and spending less time on your routine. Exercises such as pushups, bicep curls, squats, lunges, and crunches are examples of strength training exercises.
As we age, our muscles become shorter, causing stiffness and a loss of motion in our joints. Tight muscles are more likely to cramp and become painful. Stretching can help to lengthen muscles and restore our range of motion.
Shoulder stretches, hamstring stretches, cat-cow stretches, and triceps stretches are a few of the many types of stretching exercises.
Aging can cause eyesight and hearing to become diminished, yet these senses help us maintain our balance. So I find it helpful to add a type of activity that addresses this.
Tai chi is an ancient form of exercise that helps with balance. Yoga also helps with balance, in addition to strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility. Some studies suggest that yoga can be as beneficial for COPD patients as traditional pulmonary rehabilitation (standard progressive muscle-relaxation programs).
Where to start
The COPD Foundation has what it calls a “pocket consultant guide,” which features many useful items. The guide is actually an app that has two “tracks” — one for patients and caregivers and another for healthcare providers. The goal is to “improve disease management and communication with a patient’s health care team,” the foundation notes.
Among the features are activity tracking, formulating a COPD action plan, inhaler videos, exercise videos, and more. The exercise videos include seated movements, which I did a year ago while recovering from a severe COPD exacerbation. You can download the app for free at the App Store or Google Play.
We must use all of the tools available to us to age well and manage our COPD. One of the power tools in our toolboxes is exercise. If you’re new to it, start slowly and build your endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance over time. Don’t try to do too much. Again, always consult a doctor first.
To me, exercise plays a vital role in maintaining a good quality of life. Some people like to incorporate different forms of exercise into one long routine, but I prefer to break up activities into a morning session and an evening routine.
For older adults, the National Institute on Aging recommends building up to 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week and total body strength training twice weekly. Harvard Health recommends stretching daily or at least three or four times a week. I incorporate stretching into my own routine by using it as a cool-down activity or by practicing yoga twice a week. (Yoga is also my go-to exercise when I don’t feel like exercising at all.)
Figure out what works best for you and stick with it. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This 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. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.