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If you have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you must exercise and remain active to enhance your fitness, breathing, and quality of life. Regular exercise can also empower you to re-discover activities you thought you could not do.

Exercising at the right level, you can cope with shortness of breath, strengthen your muscles, and increase your overall fitness. Evidence suggests that regular exercise can help –

● Resist infections
● Carry out routine activities
● Strengthen your bones
● Strengthen the muscles you require for breathing
● Increase blood circulation and strengthen your heart muscles
● Improve energy levels
● Improve your confidence and well-being

Other than that, exercising is beneficial in reducing –

● Feelings of depression and anxiety
● Blood pressure
● Risk of diabetes
● Risk of stroke and other heart diseases
● Risk of arthritis
● Stress levels

If you have COPD, join a pulmonary rehabilitation program to learn the best ways to exercise based on your requirements.

The Difference Between Physical Activity and Exercise in Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

It is essential to understand the distinction between physical activity and exercise. When we talk about physical activity, it includes everyday movements and activities that we engage in, such as doing chores, walking to the grocery store, etc.

On the other hand, pulmonary rehabilitation exercises are targeted and specific activities that are necessary for inducing change. For instance, brisk walking or aerobic movements would fall under exercise.

Some exercises help your muscles to become stronger, helping you perform certain activities at ease. At the same time, others focus on increasing your stamina and endurance.

Physical activity has advantages, but you can gain more significant benefits in terms of strength, fitness, breathing, and general well-being. You will feel the difference gradually when you start being more active and engaging in regular exercise.

There are three basic types of exercises that you have to perform in pulmonary rehabilitation. Let’s take a quick look at them –

Stretching Exercises – It entails lengthening the muscles slowly. Stretching the muscles before and after exercise helps prepare them for the activity to prevent muscle strain and injury. Regular stretching can also increase your flexibility and range of motion.
Aerobic or Cardiovascular Exercises – It involves all the muscle groups and focuses on strengthening the lungs and heart by improving the cardio fitness level. With time, aerobic exercises can decrease blood pressure and heart rate while improving breathing. Some common forms of aerobic exercises include jogging, walking, bicycling, jumping rope, rowing, skiing, cross-country skiing, water aerobics, low-impact aerobics, etc.
Strengthening Exercises – It includes performing repeated muscle contractions until your muscles feel tired. These are targeted at the upper body to help people with COPD strengthen their respiratory muscles.

What Should Be Part of Your Daily Exercise Routine?

Your exercise routine should include three phases – warm-up, conditioning, and cool-down. The warm-up is necessary for helping your body transition from rest to exercise. It helps reduce stress on your muscles and heart, increasing your circulation, breathing, and body temperature slowly. It can also reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility. The best way to warm up would be to include a range of motion activities, stretching exercises, and starting your workout at a lower intensity.

The second phase that follows warm-up is conditioning. In this stage, you’re required to bring calories through exercise. Hence, you must monitor the intensity of your workout. You can check your heart rate to measure the intensity of your exercises. You can get more information on monitoring heart rate from your healthcare provider. Gradually, you’re required to increase the duration of your activity.

When you’re done with your conditioning phase, you will be left with a cool-down. Your body needs to recover from the intense workout, and cool-down exercises allow you to do that. Your blood pressure and heart rate are expected to get back to normal. When you cool down, it doesn’t mean you’ll be simply sitting down. The best way to cool down would be to decrease your workout intensity gradually. You may have to do similar stretching exercises that you did before starting the exercise routine.

What Should Be the Ideal Intensity of Your Exercise?

Generally, the Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale is used for measuring the intensity of exercises. The scale starts with a 0 and ends with a 10. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these ratings indicates –

0 Nothing At All
1 Very Light
2 Light
3 Light-Moderate
4 Moderate
5 Moderate
6 Moderate-Hard
7 Hard
8 Very Hard
9 Near Maximal
10 Maximal

For people with COPD, exercise intensity should range between level 3 and level 4. Along with the rating scale, feelings of tiredness and shortness of breath must also be taken into account.

How to Deal with Breathlessness While Exercising?

It is normal to feel breathless while exercising, and it happens to people who do not have a lung condition as well. Exercising is necessary for all people to improve their general health. If you tend to get shortness of breath while performing regular activities, exercising will reduce its likelihood by a significant margin.

You can try a couple of breathing techniques to control your breathing when you get shortness of breath. In your pulmonary rehabilitation program, you will be taught how to perform these breathing techniques the right way. Here are two common examples –

Pursed-Lip Breathing Keep your lips pursed just the way you do while whistling and breathing out.
Blow As You Go – Breathe out while making a big effort, such as bending, stretching, or standing up.

Do not waste your energy by trying to stay as relaxed and calm as possible. Your small muscles need to be relaxed because tensing them takes away more oxygen from your body, increasing the chances of breathlessness.

If you are experiencing shortness of breath while performing some sort of physical activity, you can take a breather. A few positions are known to help deal with breathlessness. Let’s take a look at them:

Stand Leaning Forward – You can lean forward while placing your elbows on a windowsill, a wall, the back of a chair, or a railing.
Sit Leaning Forward – You can sit while leaning forward, keeping your elbows on the knees. Let your hands and wrists go limp. If you have a table in front of you, you can rest your head using your arms as a pillow.
Stand Leaning Backwards or Sideways – You can try leaning back or sideways using a wall for support while keeping your feet apart and one foot away from the wall.

How to Exercise at Home?

It isn’t an overstatement when we say people with COPD must stay physically active to lead a better quality of life. Hence, your exercise routines shouldn’t just be limited to your pulmonary rehabilitation program. However, if you plan on exercising at home, including making changes to the type of exercises you do, you need to consult your doctor and other healthcare professionals to understand whether it’s safe for you.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure your safety at home –

● Make sure you perform warm-up and cool-down stretches before and after exercising.
● Keep your inhaler with you while you exercise.
● Wear comfortable yet supportive clothing while you exercise with non-slip shoes.
● Wait for an hour at least after eating to start your exercise routine.
● If you experience chest tightness or pain, stop exercising. The same goes for clammy hands, nauseousness, and aching muscles or joints.

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