Now, we know that your breathing problems may leave you low on energy and afraid to exercise — working out makes you even more out of breath, after all! If your fears have led you to a couch-potato lifestyle, however, your cardiovascular function will suffer while your muscles also get weaker. That, in turns, means you’ll feel breathless, wheezy, and fatigued if you try to get physically active at all. You don’t want that.
Exercise should, indeed, be part of the life of every COPD patient. This becomes obvious when you see it’s included in pulmonary rehabilitation programs your doctor may recommend, too. How can you include exercise in your life in a way that will help, rather than harm, you?
Before you start
Working out won’t undo the damage your lungs have suffered. It does have the ability to increase your stamina and to make your muscles — including respiratory ones — stronger. The end result should be a life in which you’re able to do more things, more easily. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and wheezing will still be a part of your life, but hopefully less so.
You want to keep some things in mind before attempting a new exercise program, though:
- Start slow! Don’t overdo it at the beginning — gentle and short workouts are the gateway to more intense, longer ones. Working out around half an hour three or four times a week will offer you great benefits, but be patient while you work your way there.
- Shorter workout sessions more often are going to be better than longer ones less often.
- Start your workouts with gentle stretching exercises, and don’t forget do wind your session down the same way.
- Don’t eat meals in the half hour before and after exercise, and though you may get thirsty while you work out, stick to fluid restrictions set by your doctor.
- Workouts you actually enjoy are workouts that will remain part of your life. Choose something you fancy, not something you really don’t like the sound of.
- Finally, don’t think you should stop working out if exercise has led to an improvement in symptoms — to keep this new quality of life, you need to stick with the program.
OK, that wasn’t actually the final tip; there’s one more. Always consult your doctor before you start a new workout routine, as they know all about your physical condition and can advise you about the kinds of workouts that will be safe for you, as well as their duration.
Gentle stretching exercises are safe for almost everyone, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless — stretching will help you become more flexible, in turn also reducing your risk of injury and muscle aches. Stretching before and after main workouts is essential, but if you like, you can also do stretching exercises on their own.
Of all the cardio exercises out there, walking is really the obvious choice. You probably already do it every day, and all you need to do is add to that a bit — by walking more, or by walking faster if you like. You can take a stroll around the neighborhood if the weather’s nice, around a shopping mall if it isn’t, and you can even pace around your own home. If you’re not sure how much you’re actually walking but would like to, there’s apps for that.
Pulmonary rehab classes and gyms can help you with supervised cycling, but you may also like to try peddling outside or in your own home. A stationary bike has the added benefit that you can easily stop and take a break if you’re out of breath. The key is, again, to start slow and gradually build up to more intense sessions.
4. Stair climbing
Most people don’t think of this as exercise (and if you have COPD, it may seem more like a roadblock), but going up stairs is actually a pretty good cardio exercise. Do it more, and you’ll strengthen your muscles and build up your stamina — the more you do it, the less likely you’ll be to get out of breath while you’re climbing stairs.
If you want to make stair climbing a part of your daily routine, remember you’re not in a race — you can go as slowly as you need to. Don’t forget to breathe and pause as you need to. Going down the stairs will offer you a gentler recovery period after you’re done climbing them.
5. Weight training
Weight or resistance training is going to give you stronger muscles, which means you’ll be able to perform everyday tasks more easily. You can find examples of weight training programs online, both for your upper and lower body, but you could also train at the gym with the help of a personal instructor. That way, you know you’re doing it right and you’re doing the right amount of exercise. On the whole, aim for three days of strength training a week, but discuss the details with your physician before you start.
6. Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises serve several purposes if you have COPD. They’ll make your respiratory muscles stronger, increase your oxygen intake, play a role in relaxation, and make breathing easier. You should do these breathing exercises for five to 10 minutes several times each day after a while, but as with other exercises, build up slowly.
- Pursed-lip breathing. Specifically designed for people who suffer from shortness of breath, this is basically exactly what it sounds like. It can make your breathing slower and more controlled and help you relax. It is great for when you’re out of breath after a workout.
- Diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing is harder to learn, so ask your doctor about a referral to a physical therapist for the best results. This kind of breathing makes it easier to breathe well and deeply without getting fatigued, as well as strengthening muscles in your upper body.