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COPD: Finding the Hidden Joys of Exercise

COPD: Finding the Hidden Joys of Exercise

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your health care team has probably told you that exercise can help improve or maintain your physical health. Doing breathing exercises and exercises such as walking, swimming, and gentle bicycling can really make a difference. Exercise can help reduce COPD problems, such as shortness of breath and limits on your activity level. But that’s not all exercise is good for.

Bonus benefits

Here are some other bonuses you receive from exercise:

  • You can make new friends and get support. Many hospitals offer pulmonary rehabilitation exercise programs designed for people who have lung disease. Ask your doctor to refer you to one, or visit the website of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Not only can you meet new friends, but you can gain support and get tips for coping with COPD. Exercising with a group can also help you stick with it when you feel like quitting. Activities such as golfing or dancing offer a chance for you to do something social at the same time.

  • If you smoke, exercise can help you quit. Many smokers who have quit for good were successful because they found other activities to do when they had the urge to smoke. By substituting exercising for smoking, you can get rid of a lethal habit and gain one that will help you feel better. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to help keep your COPD from getting worse.

  • It keeps your mind sharp. A recent study showed that older people with COPD who kept a regular exercise routine were better able to keep their mind sharp for the tasks of daily life. One reason may be that exercise provides oxygen. When you don’t get enough oxygen, you may get headaches, feel irritable, and think less clearly.

  • Exercise improves your sleep. People who exercise notice that they sleep better than before they had an exercise routine.

  • It helps your emotional health. Regular exercise can help you feel better emotionally, reducing your risk for health problems such as depression. Being active helps increase serotonin and beta-endorphin, substances in the body that help you feel good.

Learning about these may help inspire you to get moving when you need an extra boost.

Build your routine

Be sure to check with your doctor before you start an exercise routine, especially if you are inactive now. Your doctor can help you decide what type and how much exercise you can do. Your doctor may also suggest that you work with a respiratory therapist, a physical therapist, or an exercise physiologist.

If you have been sick and feel discouraged or out of shape, don’t worry. Start slowly with simple stretching exercises and gradually build up to walking or doing another gentle activity as you gain strength.

Be smart

Do use caution when exercising. For example, exercise indoors when it is hot, humid, cold, or when air pollution levels are high. These can trigger breathing problems. Check regularly with your health care team about your exercise routine.