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COPD and Exercise: Breathing and Exercise Programs for COPD

If you have trouble breathing, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercises for COPD can help your breathing, allowing you to stay as active as possible and improving your quality of life. Before beginning with a COPD exercise program, be sure to talk with your doctor or other health care provider.

How Exercises for COPD Can Help You

Exercise -- especially exercise that works your lungs and heart -- has many benefits for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Exercise can:

  • Improve how well your body uses oxygen, which is important, because people with COPD use more energy to breathe than other people do
  • Decrease your symptoms and improve your breathing
  • Strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, and improve your circulation
  • Improve your energy, making it possible to stay more active
  • Improve your sleep and make you feel more relaxed
  • Help you maintain a healthy weight
  • Enhance your mental and emotional outlook
  • Reduce your social isolation, if you exercise with others
  • Strengthen your bones

4 Types of Exercises for COPD

These four types of exercises can help you if you have COPD. How much you focus on each type of exercise depends on the COPD exercise program your health care provider suggests for you:

Stretching exercises lengthen your muscles, increasing your flexibility. Stretching can also help prepare your muscles for other types of exercise, decreasing your chance of injury.

Aerobic exercises use large muscle groups to move at a steady, rhythmic pace. This type of exercise works your heart and lungs, improving their endurance by working your respiratory muscles. This helps your body use oxygen more efficiently and, with time, can improve your breathing. Walking and using a stationary bike are two good choices of aerobic exercise if you have COPD.

Strengthening exercises involve tightening muscles until they begin to tire. When you do this for the upper body, it can help increase the strength of your breathing muscles.

Breathing exercises for COPD help you strengthen breathing muscles, get more oxygen, and breathe with less effort. Here are two examples of breathing exercises you can begin practicing. Work up to five to 10 minutes, three to four times a day.

Pursed lip breathing:

  1. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
  2. Breathe in for two seconds through your nose, keeping your mouth closed.
  3. Breathe out for four seconds through pursed lips. If this is too long for you, simply breathe out twice as long as you breathe in.

Use pursed-lip breathing while exercising. If you experience shortness of breath, first try slowing your rate of breathing and focus on breathing out through pursed lips.

Diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent. You can put a pillow under your knees for support.
  2. Place one hand on your belly below your rib cage. Place the other hand on your chest.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 3. (Your belly and lower ribs should rise, but your chest should remain still.)
  4. Tighten your stomach muscles and exhale for a count of six through slightly puckered lips.

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