COPD, Asthma, and You: Benefits of Exercise

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Exercise in various forms can help persons with COPD or asthma breathe freely and enjoy life’s best moments.

It’s never too late to begin. Just remember to discuss your exercise plan with your primary health care provider first.

There are four types of physical activity that may improve the lives of persons with COPD or asthma:

  • Deep Breathing
  • Stretching
  • Cardiovascular or Aerobic
  • Strengthening

Deep Breathing

Controlled deep breathing techniques can help COPD and asthma patients improve breathing efficiency and achieve a relaxed state during exercise or at other times.

The most common technique involves inhaling through your nostrils, with your mouth closed, as deeply as possible and then exhaling slowly through pursed lips. Try to exhale twice as long as it takes you to inhale. Do not rush.

This method can improve transfer of oxygen to your system and provide a sense of calm. This helps regulate breathing during your exercise routine or any time you encounter shortness of breath.

The Lung Health Institute also recommends and describes other breathing exercises that may benefit you. Your health care provider can also instruct you in how to use these techniques to best advantage.

Stretching

Before and after any concentrated exercise, it is a good idea to stretch muscles and tendons. Athletes refer to this as the warm-up and cool-down periods. Both are beneficial in helping to prevent injury and to increase flexibility or range of motion.

Yoga

Yoga sessions typically begin with simple stretching and breathing exercises. These exercises warm up muscle tissue and loosen joints. Breathing exercises gently slow and relax inhaling and exhaling.

After a few minutes of stretching and controlled breathing, you can engage in various yoga postures along with continued breath control. You should follow instructions of an experienced yoga teacher who can adjust the postures and breathing to your ability.

Following your engaging in appropriate yoga poses, your teacher will guide you in deep relaxation techniques that include slowing your breath and calming your mind. The goal is to achieve deep feelings of freedom, relaxation, and well-being. 

You can also look for options that allow you to stay home. Many yoga studios are providing virtual instruction to accommodate social distancing measures.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a gentle, stress-relieving form of exercise that may also benefits those with COPD or asthma. Controlled exercise and breathing helps affected persons to walk longer distances and improve their quality of life.

Tai Chi has been especially effective in improving balance, muscle strength, and general mobility—benefits not commonly provided by ordinary pulmonary rehabilitation.

Cardiovascular or Aerobic Exercise

This kind of exercise activates large muscle groups to improve heart function, blood pressure and circulation, and breathing. You should consult your primary health care provider before beginning an aerobic exercise program.

Walking

Walking improves muscle strength, balance, endurance, and breathing. These benefits produce a sense of well-being, independence, and enthusiasm for life. Walking outdoors whenever possible is especially beneficial.

Regardless of distance, daily walking will improve general health and ability to breathe from the very beginning.

Further, walking improves heart rate and raises oxygen blood levels, thereby making breathing more efficient.  

The benefits of walking are so important that using a rolling walker is recommended for persons who require assistance with balance or ability to rest whenever needed.

Swimming, Biking, and Other Activities

Swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, skating, or low-impact aerobic activities offer welcome alternatives to walking for those who are able to take advantage of them.

All of these activities require controlled breathing and higher degrees of strength and balance. But they can be extremely beneficial in creating a sense of well-being.

Strengthening or Resistance Exercise

In addition to aerobic exercise and relaxation techniques, a well-rounded exercise program includes methods for increasing muscle strength.

Lifting weights, using resistance bands, or employing muscle-strengthening exercises that require repeated muscle contractions are the most popular methods.

Improving upper-body strength is especially important for COPD-affected persons since that will directly improve breathing capacity.

As always, it is important to consult your doctor before beginning this type of exercise. Typically, people begin gradually so they don’t overtax their muscles.

Frequency of Exercise and Other Matters

Everyone should consider adding regular exercise to their daily routine. Keep the following in mind as you set goals for yourself.

  • Exercise when you naturally have more energy.
  • Try to engage in group activities for encouragement.
  • Try to exercise regularly, around 3 to 4 times a week.
  • Keep a record of your achievements.
  • Proceed at a steady pace, relax, and breathe freely.
  • Have fun.

Too often, we turn getting exercise into a chore: “no pain, no gain” as the saying goes. But that’s just wrong-headed.

A regular routine of moderate exercise will make us feel better, improve our mood, and give us a sense of accomplishment. Life and those all-important moments will become more enjoyable.

So let’s get moving!