Regular exercise is the path to a healthy life. It is as important to people with COPD as it is to healthy people. It doesn’t seem to make any sense because many people believe that exercise only burdens the poor pulmonary function of people with COPD. Exactly the opposite is true. It helps with your blood circulation and helps your heart provide more oxygen to your body. Although you are already short of breath in normal conditions, controlling your breath intentionally during exercise can actually strengthen your respiratory muscles and make it easier for you to breathe. Other benefits can include strengthened muscles, bones, joints, and improved mental states. But be sure to keep it within your limit. You definitely need to talk to your doctor about the type and amount of your exercise.
Pulmonary rehabilitation can include various breathing training exercises specially designed for COPD patients. One commonly used exercise is slow abdominal respiration.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position and relax. Put your hands on your abdomen and slowly breathe with your nose with mouth closed, until you feel that your lungs are filled with air like a balloon and your abdomen protrudes, then exhale slowly. When you exhale, your abdomen retracts. Keep your chest unmoved throughout the breath and try to exhale longer than inhale. Exercise for 10 minutes each time, three to four times a day. Making it a habit can let you breathe more easily by strengthening your diaphragm--a key breathing muscle.
Aerobic exercise benefits COPD patients by allowing their bodies to use oxygen more efficiently. Over time, it can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, and improve your breathing. The following are some aerobic exercises that are friendly to COPD patients:
Walking may be the exercise of the highest accessibility, which is certainly a good exercise for people with COPD. Taking a proper walk gets your whole body moving without much extra effort from your lungs. It doesn’t only enhance your pulmonary capacity, but also helps with the digestion of food and absorption of nutrition. Besides, taking a walk in a good environment allows you to breathe more fresh air, which also benefits your respiratory system.
Jogging is a stepped-up version of walking, which can be done by people with mild COPD symptoms or when they feel better with breathing. Jogging is highly efficient in improving pulmonary capacity. It also builds up your immune system. But keep in mind that for COPD patients, the primary demand for exercise is to prevent patients from exhaustion. So don’t force yourself. Do it step by step, add on a little every day and you can benefit in the long run.
Cycling may be the best choice of aerobic training for people with COPD. Consult your doctor or coach about the workload that matches your ability. It is suggested to start with an indoor stationary bike so that you can take better rest if needed or ask for help if not feeling good. With progress made, you can try to go for a ride on your bike and enjoy the scenery.
Some COPD patients have been doing exercise for a long time. In that case, you should prepare yourself by doing some regular stretching before moving on to other exercises. it increases your range of motion and flexibility, reducing the chance of injury and muscle strain. Post-exercise stretching can also help you recover faster. You can practice holding a gentle stretch for 10-30 seconds, slowly breathing in and out, and repeat a few times.
Resistance training strengthens all your muscles, including those involved in breathing. You don’t necessarily need equipment like resistance bands. Body weight calisthenics can do the work as well. Try the following exercises:
- Arm Curls
Hold a weight (anything available) in both hands at your sides, palms forward. Breathe in, bend your elbows, lift them to your chest, exhale slowly, then inhale, and slowly lower your arms at the same time. Repeat 10-15 times for one group, and do two groups each time.
- Leg Extensions
Sit in a chair with back support. Lean back and breathe in. Exhale slowly while stretching one leg as straight as possible without shaking your knees. Then slowly lower your leg and inhale. Do it on both of your legs. Still do two groups with 10-15 times for each group. You can gradually add some weight as you feel easier.
Combination of Breathing and Physical Exercises
Another ideal option for people with COPD is exercises that combine breathing exercises with gentle physical exercises. Such exercises include Tai Chi and yoga.
Taking Tai chi as an example, it is a low-intensity exercise that can be exercised for a long time. It requires deep and slow abdominal breathing. Tai Chi keeps you in an aerobic state. It exactly serves the purpose of long and slow aerobic exercise, improving the function of your respiratory system and toning your muscles. It also reduces stress and helps you relax.
About supplemental oxygen
Many COPD patients use supplemental oxygen. If you do, you should exercise with it. The flow rate and concentration you need for exercise will be different so please consult your doctor for details. You might also need to switch to a longer tube or use a portable oxygen concentrator for outside exercise if necessary.