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. That’s 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
The most important part of any pulmonary rehabilitation program for COPD is exercise. All pulmonary rehab centers offer exercises to improve physical fitness. Some centers provide an exercise program only. Other centers provide access to specialists, education, and psychological support, in addition to exercises.
Pulmonary rehab exercises include:
Lower-body exercises: Most centers provide a regimen of exercises that centers on leg workouts. These exercises vary from simple walking on a treadmill or around a track to more intense stair climbing. Most of the proven benefits of pulmonary rehab come from studies in people doing leg exercises.
Upper-body exercises: The muscles in the upper body are important for breathing, as well as daily activities. Arm and chest exercises might include turning a crank against resistance, or simply repetitively lifting the arms against gravity.
Exercises for breathing muscles: Breathing through a mouthpiece against resistance during pulmonary rehab may increase the strength of the breathing muscles. These exercises are infrequently used, but may be helpful for people with very weak breathing muscles.
Many pulmonary rehab centers offer group or one-on-one education sessions to help people learn to better manage their COPD. Teaching sessions generally focus on:
Understanding your medication treatment plan. This includes using inhalers the right way and on a consistent schedule.
How to understand and use oxygen therapy.
Quitting smoking and staying away from cigarettes after quitting.
Eating a healthy diet.
Studies show that people who learn about their COPD and treatment plan are better able to recognize symptoms and take appropriate action. However, education is no substitute for regular exercise as part of a pulmonary rehab program.