How to Live an Active Life with COPD

Three Methods:Participating in Exercise and Activities with COPDStaying Safe During ExerciseManaging Your COPD

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressive respiratory disease that makes it very difficult and uncomfortable to breathe.[1] Long-term smoking is the most common cause of COPD. However, long-term exposure to lung irritants or having untreated asthma can cause this disease. People suffering from COPD typically experience coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in their chest. These symptoms can come on at any time and with any sort of activity. This can make it difficult to lead an active life with COPD. However, managing your COPD well, staying in touch with your doctor regularly and exercising your lungs can help you feel better, breathe better and live an active life.

Method 1
Participating in Exercise and Activities with COPD

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    Ease into activities. With a serious lung disease like COPD, you have to be exceptionally careful when you start physical activity. Although exercise can help improve your COPD, you still need to ease into activities slowly.[2]
    • If you haven't been overly active, it's best to start very slowly with exercise. Don't feel like you need to be exercising for significant amounts of time.
    • Many physicians will recommend starting with just 5 or 10 minutes of activity.
    • Getting better with activity and being able to be active longer over time, will help you build confidence in yourself but also strength in your body.
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    Increase your lifestyle activity. Increasing your lifestyle activity is a great way to stay active without overdoing it. These are not cardio activities, but do help keep your body moving and your lungs working.
    • Lifestyle activities are those exercises that are a part of your normal daily routine. They can include chores or yard work, walking up and down stairs and walking to and from your destinations.[3]
    • If you have COPD, some of these activities may be difficult for you initially. This is what makes lifestyle activities a great place to start improving and measuring progress.
    • For example, if you have trouble walking for long distances, make one of your first goals walking to get the mail everyday. Or if you have trouble with stairs, ask a family member to help you take the stairs more often during the day.
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    Always do a warm-up. When you're ready to progress to more structured exercise, you need to plan to include a warm-up. This is an essential component of safe exercise for those with COPD.[4]
    • The purpose of any warm-up is to slowly get your body primed for more intense exercises.
    • Warm-ups are especially important for those with COPD because your body needs extra time to get your breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature elevated.
    • A warm up can also help prevent muscle soreness and improve flexibility.
    • Start by doing some simple stretches or walk very slowly for at least 5-10 minutes.
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    Add in low intensity cardio exercises. Unless cleared by your physician, you should only participate in aerobic activities that are low in intensity. This level is the most safe for patients with COPD.[5]
    • Try using the perceived exertion scale to help you stay at a lower intensity. It's rated from 1-10 with one being completely sedentary and 10 being your maximum level of exertion.
    • Those with COPD should aim for a 3-4 level on this scale. You can be slightly out of breath, but it shouldn't be difficult to breathe. You should be able to talk and get out short sentences without having to take a breath.
    • Activities you can try include: walking, water walking, biking or using the elliptical.
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    Do light strength training. Aerobic exercises are great to help improve the condition of your lungs and improve your cardiovascular system. However, strength training is also an essential form of exercise as well.
    • Strength training, especially in your core and upper body can help strengthen the muscles around your chest cavity. These help aid your body in breathing by strengthening the muscles that help with inhalation and exhalation.[6]
    • Only include 1-2 days of strength training each week. Also, there is no need to do more than about 20 minutes of these exercises.
    • Use light weights or weight machines to help build strength and muscle tone.
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    Try pilates and yoga for breathing exercises. Both pilates and yoga are great exercises to help strengthen your muscles. However, they're often recommended for patients with COPD specifically.
    • Both yoga and pilates are a lower intensity exercise that have a significant focus on breathing.[7]
    • They help keep your heart rate and breathing pace low while having you practice deep breathing exercises.
    • This can help improve your coordination and improve your breathing function if done regularly.
    • Try including a yoga or pilates class 1-2 times a week. These can be used as your strengthen training exercises as well.

Method 2
Staying Safe During Exercise

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    Carry emergency medications with you. Whenever you plan to be active, it's important to be prepared and to be safe. An essential part of this is making sure you carry your medications with you.
    • Everyone with COPD will have some sort of emergency medication provided to them. Whether it's an inhaler or an oral medication, these can help relieve symptoms almost immediately.[8]
    • Have your emergency medications and an action plan with you at all times. Keep a set in your car, at home, in your purse or briefcase and gym bag.
    • You should be able to have access to these at all times. Don't leave home without them and definitely do not engage in any sort of activity without having them handy.
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    Know your symptoms. Your action plan should detail what you should do in a variety of situations. Knowing exactly what your symptoms are is an essential part of your action plan.[9]
    • Although you may know other people with COPD, everyone's disease plays out differently.
    • You need to be very clear with knowing exactly what your symptoms are and what you should do when you experience them.
    • Symptoms to be aware of include: wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, coughing.
    • If you experience these symptoms while being active, stop all activity and treat symptoms as directed by your physician.
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    Exercise with a friend. Exercising with a friend is not only a fun way to be active, but can also help you feel a little safer and more comfortable while you exercise.
    • Those with COPD may feel nervous, scared or anxious about being active - even with daily or lifestyle activities. A flare up could cause symptoms which can be scary.
    • To help reduce your anxiety and stress about this, consider asking a friend, family member or co-worker to exercise with you.
    • Inform them of your condition and give them your action plan so they can help assist you if you experience a flare up of symptoms.
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    Avoid lung irritants. Since COPD affects your lungs, if you breathe in certain irritants, they can cause a flare up of your symptoms and make breathing very difficult.
    • When you're exercising, the increase in your heart rate and breathing pace can make you more susceptible to certain lung irritants.
    • Irritants can include: dust, chemicals, pollution, fumes or cigarette smoke.[10]
    • Do not exercise or be active if you know there are any of these irritants near you. Stay indoors or choose another location to stay active.
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    Find ways to be active with an oxygen tank. Many times, people with COPD end up needing oxygen to help them breathe more easily. You will need to work closely with your doctor about the type of oxygen tank you have.
    • Although oxygen tanks can be cumbersome, that doesn't mean you cannot be active. Some are large and will make exercise or activity difficult. However, other tanks are just about 5 pounds which makes them incredibly convenient.[11]
    • Consider choosing a larger tank to have when you're at home but also have a smaller portable one for when you want to exercise or go out for the day.
    • Make your oxygen more portable for you as well. Even if you have a larger tank, get a rolling cart, back pack or purse-like case for your oxygen. This makes it much easier to take along with you.
    • Also be mindful of the tubing. Use a shorter tube when you're going to be out and about. Those longer tubes can get in the way and get caught on objects.

Method 3
Managing Your COPD

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    Visit the doctor regularly. Since COPD is a progressive disease, it's important to talk to and visit your doctor regularly. They will be able to help you manage your condition and give you guidance on staying active.
    • COPD is usually treated with one or more medications. Talk to your doctor about your medications and how to use them correctly.
    • In addition, talk to your doctor about what medications to take and how to take them if you get tight or have trouble breathing.
    • If you want to stay active or become more active, ask your doctor for guidance. Ask what types of activities are safe for you, what intensity is appropriate and how long you can be active for.
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    Be consistent with your medications. When you have a chronic disease like COPD, it's essential that you not only take your medications, but are consistent with them day to day.
    • COPD patients may require both oral medications and inhalers. They help decrease inflammation in the lungs which helps you be able to breathe more easily.[12]
    • Many COPD medications are only active in the short-term (like 4-8 hours). This means that you need to take them at least once, but even up to 2-3 times per day.
    • On days that you're feeling well, with no wheezing or difficulty breathing, it's still important that you take your medications. They are there to help prevent the onset of symptoms and keep inflammation down.
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    Have a COPD action plan. Many physicians recommend that COPD patients have an action plan in place. Work with your doctor to help create your own personalized plan.
    • A COPD action plan is designed by you and your doctor and will give you instructions on what to do or what not do if you feel any symptoms.[13]
    • Your action plan should review day-to-day medications and scheduling.
    • In addition, it should list out your symptoms and what medications to take and how often.
    • For example, if you begin wheezing and coughing, what medication should you take?
    • Also take into account the severity of your symptoms. When should you call 911? Should you call with moderate symptoms or only severe symptoms?
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    Consider joining a support group. COPD doesn't only affect your lungs. Many COPD patients deal with depression and anxiety as well. The fear of getting too out of breath, having uncontrollable symptoms and not being able to be as active or social can affect your emotional health.[14]
    • If you're noticing that you're feeling more down or depressed since dealing or being diagnosed with COPD, consider seeking help from a support group.
    • Talking about your issues and how COPD is affecting your life is helpful. This is especially true if other's have been in your shoes.
    • In addition, other patients can provide you tips, tricks and ideas for how to cope better.
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    Talk to a therapist. If you're struggling continually with depression or anxiety related to your COPD, you might benefit from seeing a therapist on a more regular basis.
    • Work with your physician and get in touch with a behavioral therapist. They can help build your confidence in yourself, your action plan and help you learn to cope through this disease.
    • If you're feeling overly anxious about the possibility of a flare up, talk to your doctor on the best ways to manage your symptoms.
    • Having your action plan in place, having your emergency medications readily available and support system can help relieve some of this anxiety. However, talking to your behavioral therapist about this issue is a good idea.
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    Educate yourself about COPD. When you're first diagnosed with COPD, it can be overwhelming and confusing. However, educating yourself as much as you can help you stay safe and manage your disease.[15]
    • Your physician will spend time with you giving you some medication. However, many times this is focused on your medications and breathing tests.
    • However, you should spend additional time learning about COPD, how it affects your body, different triggers and how to manage your COPD through lifestyle changes.


  • Always follow the advice by your doctor.
  • Take medications regularly and always have an emergency medication with you at all times.
  • Even though COPD is a chronic and difficult condition to live with, you can still have an active life. Continue to work with your physicians so you can continue to be active.
  • Many times, aerobic activity can actually help improve COPD and make your lungs feel better over time.

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Categories: Respiratory Health