Many people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) may feel scared to exercise. After all, they can find themselves short of breath even with everyday activities. But science is on the side of exercise as it benefits mood, breathing capacity, and circulation.
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a term used to describe a number of chronic inflammatory conditions that obstruct airflow to the lungs. This includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and (depending on who you ask) refractory asthma.
Breathing-in irritating chemicals like cigarette smoke is often the cause for most cases. While there are other causes for COPD, most of it is preventable and treatable if caught early on.
Unfortunately treatable does not mean curable, if diagnosed with COPD then the disease will persist until the day you die. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and these have a huge impact on the quality of life.
The Benefits of Exercise
Exercise is good for the body in general, having medical condition just means that we have to be more careful. Exercise helps to improve a person’s overall quality of life, lessen the symptoms of COPD, and lift the mood. Here is how-
Strengthens Breathing Muscles. The exercise engages the muscles of respiration including the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and scalene muscles. This helps to make breathing easier by making these muscles more effective at contracting with the available oxygen (1).
Improves Circulation. We become short of breath when our body tissues demand more oxygen than is being delivered by circulation. The body attempts make up for this oxygen deficit by increasing breathing and heart rate- to take in more air.
When we exercise we train the heart to take more stress, which helps lessen shortness of breath when not exercising.
Endurance. Improved function of both heart and breathing muscles leads to an increase in overall endurance. This helps delay fatigue experienced while doing everyday activities like walking or going up a flight of stairs.
Boost in Mood. Exercise is associated with improved mood and self-esteem. This may be due to improved oxygen delivery to the brain, lymphatic drainage, and the release of feel-good molecules (like dopamine, endorphins, and endocanabinoids). Overall, less fatigue and a better mood will lead to a boost in self-perceived happiness and quality of life.
Cations and Tips
While exercise is key to pulmonary rehabilitation, it is important to remember that exercise is a type of stress on the body that can aggravate COPD if not done properly (2).
- Consult a lung specialist before taking on an exercise plan to make sure that it fits your situation and remain aware of potential dangers.
- Exercise with guidance on an exercise expert like a physiotherapist or personal trainer that is experienced with COPD patients.
- Watch your breathing, it is always better to inhale through your nose to help warm, moisten, and filter the air before it goes into your lungs.
- “Physical Activity and COPD.” American Lung Association, www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/living-with-copd/physical-activity.html.
- Spruit, Martijn A., et al. “COPD and Exercise: Does It Make a Difference?” Breathe, vol. 12, no. 2, 2016, doi:10.1183/20734735.003916.