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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

COPD and Exercise: How to Make it Work

Posted by Erin Lowry on May 31, 2018 9:15:00 AM


copd and exercise: how to make it work

We all know the importance of exercise, but we don’t always do it. Sometimes we can’t find time, or the motivation.

Continuing to avoid working out is a bad habit, and can give us issues in our future. As we get older, we have less motivation and a harder time working out.

For those with COPD, it can be even harder to exercise due to the constant struggle to breathe.

COPD patients have a hard time with breathing, and there can also be the fear of hurting themselves while working out.

Shockingly, exercise can actually help with your COPD.

Though COPD cannot be reversed, exercise can strengthen your muscles (around your lungs and heart) and help prevent the disease from getting worse. Exercise can also help ease the symptoms of COPD.

Exercise with COPD is more than just beneficial for your lungs and heart, but your entire body as well.

It can benefit your weight, blood flow and help prevent heart diseases.

As patients are diagnosed with COPD, the feeling of being unable to do much of what they once did can lead to their physical and mental health to deteriorate.

Doing less and less, solely because they feel they cannot do what they once did leads to a lack of physical activity.

It is very important to continue to exercise even if you feel you can’t. Slow and easy exercises are the best way to start working out with COPD.

Even if you can only walk to the mailbox and back, start there. The next day walk to your neighbors house and back. Slowly push yourself to the next goal everyday.

COPD may make running a marathon or participating in a triathlon difficult, but maintaining some form of physical activity can help you feel good and keep your muscles strong.

Talk to Your Doctor


doctor talking with older couple about copd


Doctors have great knowledge and resources that can help give you a better idea of what is safe to do and what is not.

Your doctor knows what safe exercises are for you to do, and what you need to do with supervision.

Your doctor will also know your medical history, even if it is not related to your lungs. If you had a broken knee 3 years ago, walking or biking may not be your best option.

Swimming might be a better option for you, or your doctor will direct you to a rehabilitation program or exercise plan that works for your needs.

Exercise, no matter the type, can run you out of breath, especially with COPD.

An important step for not feeling out of breath is matching your breathing with your movement and efforts.

Breathing Techniques

Two effective ways to work on your breathing are pursed-lips and breathing from the diaphragm.

These techniques are beneficial to learn as they can help you in times of need.

Both of these techniques can help you when working out, living your everyday life or in a moment of panic.

Pursed-Lip Breathing:

Pursed-lips breathing is where you breathe in your nostrils and out through pursed-lips, similar to blowing out a candle.

While breathing out, keep breathing for 2-3 times longer than you had breathed in.

Your goal is to try and expel as much air from your lungs as possible, as sometimes when we breathe we do not get all of the remaining CO2 out.

Diaphragm Breathing:

Diaphragm breathing is most successful when you are sitting or lying back, and you are relaxed.

Put one hand on your stomach, and one on your chest, when you breathe in you should notice your stomach is rising, when exhaling, your stomach should lower.

Following the pursed-lips method, breathe in through your nose and out through your pursed-lips.

Doing either of these a few times a day in a few minute sessions should help strengthen your lungs.

If you feel like you are struggling to master these techniques, ask your doctor or respiratory therapist and have them show you the proper technique.

When this is mastered, you can use it for any time that you feel you are out of breath. If you walked up a long flight of stairs, or if you did some exercises.

Always use these methods for a short period of time, as doing it too much can cause light headedness or for you to become faint.

Confidence in Working Out

While exercising, if you feel that you have overdone it, stop what you are doing, sit down and try to do some breathing exercises, and once you feel up to it, you can try again.

Once you feel confident in working out, maybe you found a buddy to go walking with, or maybe your doctor wrote you up some exercises step-by-step.

If your doctor wrote you a program to follow, make sure it has the following: stretching, some form of aerobics, and muscle strength.

Stretching is important to warm up the muscles and prevent any pulled/torn muscles.

Touching your toes, flexing your feet and stretching your arms are all good ways to warm up before your work out.

Aerobic is to help your lungs, heart, and blood flow.

Walking, biking or using the elliptical are all great options for a low impact exercise.

Muscle strength will help your muscles from being fragile. It will also help strengthen the muscles around your lungs and heart.

Lifting small weights, doing modified push-ups, or squats are all good ways to strengthen your muscles.

What is important is to keep the motivation to exercise. We recommend setting goals for yourself, as it can help keep you motivated.

If you are worried of exercising too much or too little, always rely on how you feel as well as doctor recommendations.

If you don’t feel anything while working out, push yourself a little bit more. When working out, you want to feel the workout.

Or if you don't feel your exercises are not safe for you, speak with your doctor about other options.

You can always go back and ask your doctor for other exercises that are more challenging or safer.

When you get sick, you do not have the motivation or energy to workout.

During this time, you should exercise less as you need to give your body a rest to recover from your illness. Your doctor will most likely suggest to you that minimal exercise while you are sick is a good thing.

An important note for exercising with COPD and an oxygen tank, is to continue using the oxygen when you are exercising.

 When you need oxygen regularly, using it while exercising is an important thing to remember.

If you need oxygen while not doing physical activity, you will need it when you exercise and put more of a strain on your lungs.

older individuals practicing yoga together


More importantly, make it a fun “chore”, and keep track of your feelings after your exercise. If you notice you are not feeling good after your exercise, talk to you doctor about finding other things you can do to keep feeling good.

Below we listed some easy aerobic exercises you can try. Make sure to check with your doctor before attempting any of the following.


  1. Quad stretch
    • Stand with your left hip facing a chair, and hold the back of the chair with your left hand.
    • Once you feel sturdy, breathe in, and as you breathe out, bend your right knee.
    • Attempt to reach your right hand down to your right foot.
    • Slightly pull on your leg to stretch those muscles.
    • When you exhale again, lower your leg back to the floor.
    • Repeat, and then switch sides.
  2. Shoulder rolls
    • Stand facing a mirror, and have your arms hang by your side.
    • As you exhale, roll your shoulders in circles going backwards.
    • Make sure to breathe throughout this process.
  3. Calf stretch
    • While facing a wall, place the palms of your hands on the wall with your elbows barely bent.
    • Use the wall for balance, do not push back on the wall.
    • Step your left food behind you, and begin to bend your right knee slightly. Lower your left leg’s heel to the floor.
    • You should feel this stretching your calf muscles.
    • Hold for about 20 seconds and bring it back. Switch your feet.

Strength Exercises

  1. Side lifts
    • Stand facing the back of a chair, have both hands on the chair.
    • As you inhale, lift your right foot to the side, about 3 inches off the ground and hold it there.
    • Keep your toes facing forwards.
    • Repeat for a few more times and then switch sides.
  2. Walking
    • This is pretty self-explanatory, find where you are comfortable walking, whether a treadmill, mall or outside.
    • As you feel the challenge subside, look to make a new challenge. Find an incline or change your pace.
  3. Bicep curl
    • Sit on the edge of a chair, while holding a light weight in each hand (do not get a weight that is more than you feel you can handle).
    • Keep your arms straight and at your side. Keep your palms forward and inhale.
    • As your exhale bend your elbows and lift the weights to your shoulder. (Talk to your doctor about weight and reps)
  4. Leg raises
    • Lie on the floor on your back.
    • Bend one knee and put that food flat on the floor. Keep your other leg straight out in front of you.
    • As you exhale, lift your straight leg until your knees are level. Inhale as your lower your leg. Repeat a few times and switch legs.

Only follow these if your doctor or respiratory team deems it safe for you to do. Always stop any exercise if you feel any pain.

Let us know if you have tried any of these exercises and how they made you feel!

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