Ask a PT: COPD and Exercise

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“I was recently diagnosed with COPD. Am I still able to do cardio exercises, or will this just make it worse?” -Linda B.

Hi Linda,
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease that affects the effort and quality of airflow from the lungs. Performing cardiovascular activity will not make COPD worse, but your diagnosis will limit your tolerance to cardiovascular activities.

It is excellent for you to perform cardiovascular exercises and resistance activities that will increase your heart rate as this will improve your overall health and reduce atrophy of your extremity and respiratory muscles which is important to maintain your overall function. However, with COPD you will need to be continuously aware of your body’s response to the physical stress you place on it. So when performing activities such as walking you will need to moderate your level of intensity to make sure you don’t over do it and cause increased breathing difficulties.

You should be instructed in ‘pursed lip’ or ‘forced exhale’ breathing during your regular daily and cardiovascular activities as this will improve your ability to exhale. Often, exercising in humid climates makes symptoms worse because of poor pressures and air flow out of the lungs – so be aware of your symptoms as some people feel worse in the humid climates while others prefer the humidity depending on your diagnosis. Keep your exercise fun and let us know if you have any other questions, comments, or concerns!

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