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How exercise can help ease the symptoms of COPD

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

We all need air to breathe, it’s vital for our very existence. However, sometimes when your breathing rhythm is disturbed, you may find yourself sitting in a doctor’s surgery receiving a diagnosis with a strange name or acronym such as COPD. It could literally leave you catching your breath (excuse the pun).

When we come across these fancy names for the first time, it’s easy to feel that someone has taken the rug from under our feet, and we have no idea how we are going to deal with the condition in the long term.

What is COPD?

Let’s dissect this condition COPD - it stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. You may or may not have heard about it, but an estimated 3 million people have COPD in the UK (NHS, 2016). However, a further 2.1 million people remain undiagnosed (Healthcare Commission, 2006).

COPD is an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties and include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Some people may have one or the other, or both.

Chronic bronchitis results when lung damage occurs due to inflammation of the large airways. On the other hand damage to the small air sacs (alveoli) results in emphysema. This leads to destruction of the walls of air sacs, reducing the area for gaseous exchange, hence a shortness of breath.

With COPD, a sufferer may be able to take in breath, but it’s the residual air, which doesn’t come out as expiration takes place, that causes the issue as the pressure in the chest tends to compress rather than expand the airways.

Symptoms of COPD

Symptoms can vary from person to person depending on severity of the disease and how well they may have adapted to it. Common symptoms for most people include shortness of breath (dyspnoea), which can also result in asthma attacks or EIB (exercise induced bronchoconstriction).

Exercising safely with COPD

It can be really scary to think about exercise when you’re worried about having to gasp for breath but there are some safety measures that can be considered to build your confidence.

Activities such as walking, cycling or swimming which train large muscle groups are very beneficial but it’s important that you thoroughly warm up and cool down (usually 10 minutes). Keep the exercise low impact or chair based, especially if you are new to exercise, and proceed at a gentle pace. Watch out for shortness of breath (dyspnoea) and to avoid it make sure you take breaks between the sets of exercises.

Remember, exercise will strengthen cardiorespiratory muscles which will help to improve breathing performance. Exercise also improves muscular endurance strength. This increases oxygen levels in the blood, reducing fatigue and so allowing you to take part in more physical activity.

Taking part in an activity regularly is imperative to reduce the symptoms of the condition and over time exercise can have a really positive impact on the quality of life people suffering from COPD.

If you are struggling with the symptoms of COPD we are here to support you take your 1st Steps back into exercise. With NHS experience we will ensure that your exercise programme, whether in a class or in one-to-one training, is tailored to your condition and your needs. If you would like to know more contact us on or 07846 597460. We are always happy to help!

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