For those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and have difficulty breathing, prescribing exercise might seem counterintuitive. But doctors say exercise can go a long way in helping COPD patients reverse the physical disability that results from inactivity.
“Exercise conditions the muscles, cardiovascular system, heart and blood vessels,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical adviser for the American Lung Association.
As a result, less oxygen is required to complete daily tasks or activities, reducing the burden on the lungs.
One of the simplest, most-effective forms of exercise is walking, which can be done outdoors (when the air quality is good) or indoors on a treadmill, indoor track or even at the mall. If walking feels too difficult, try briefer, less-strenuous activities such as lifting soup cans for five or 10 repetitions.
“Even if you’re really, really short of breath and can barely go from your bed to the bathroom, you can still exercise,” Edelman said. Over time, your endurance will increase, as will the amount of activity you’re able to do.
If your doctor has prescribed oxygen, it’s a good idea to use it during physical activity.
If you aren’t currently prescribed oxygen but feel short of breath during exercise, talk with your doctor about taking an oxygen test. The test can determine whether your oxygen levels drop during exercise and if using oxygen can help make physical activity more manageable. “Some people have enough oxygen in the blood when sitting, but not during exercise,” Edelman said.
But regardless of whether you use prescribed oxygen, it’s important to know your limits. Perform activities indoors on days when the air quality outside is poor and avoid exercising during flare-ups. And always stop exercising if you feel exhausted or uncomfortable, Edelman noted.
Finally, if you’re not sure what type of exercise is right for you or how much of it you should do, consider attending a pulmonary rehabilitation program. There, a team of doctors, nurses and specialists who can help you to develop a fitness plan that’s tailored to your needs and abilities, as well as provide breathing strategies, energy-conserving techniques and other types of education.