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  • Carol Michaels

Exercising with COPD

Exercise is beneficial for those with COPD by increasing strength and endurance and decreasing emotional issues. The thought of working out might be overwhelming to those with COPD, but a well-designed exercise program may help them feel better physically and mentally and improve quality of life.

Those with COPD experience shortness of breath and have difficulty breathing, so it is important to start their exercise program with breathing exercises. Relaxation breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety. When feeling stressed, we usually take shallow breaths. It is important to use full lung capacity and breathe slowly and deeply. There are numerous relaxation breathing methods that can be effective. For example, one can inhale though the nose for 5 seconds and fill the torso up with air, hold the breath for two seconds, and then exhale from the mouth for 5 seconds, pressing the navel in towards the spine. It is also helpful to imagine all tension and stress leaving the body with each exhalation.

It is a good idea to learn diaphragmatic breathing through pursed lips. Diaphragmatic breathing strengthens the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. This will allow more air to move in and out of the lungs with less tiring of the chest muscles. When the diaphragm becomes weak, the patient compensates by using the shoulders and other muscles to help them breathe. The hand is placed on the abdomen. The patient, sitting or standing up straight, should inhale through the nose while gently pushing the abdomen out. The patient’s hand placed on his or her abdomen moves outward. This allows the diaphragm to lower enabling one to increase lung capacity. The patient should then exhale slowly using pursed lips while gently pushing inward and upward with the hand on the abdomen to help empty the lungs completely. The navel is pressed to the spine while exhaling all the air out. Then the patient slowly inhales, filling the lungs with air, and repeats the exercise. Pursed-lip breathing should be practiced several times a day. In addition to strengthening the abdominal muscles, it will help regulate breathing if one becomes short of breath, particularly during an activity.

Additionally, those with COPD should perform upper body stretching exercises daily to increase lung capacity. A stretching program will restore mobility in the chest and back that allows for freer movement of the lungs and diaphragm. An additional benefit of light stretching is that it also improves range of motion and decreases body stiffness.Stretching can also help improve patient’s posture. Sitting down all day at a desk or driving can cause the shoulders to round forward and kyphosis, which can decrease lung capacity. Aerobic exercise is a great way to improve fitness. It not only improves cardiac function, but also improves oxygen capacity. If one is inactive then one’s muscle and heart will weaken. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, dancing, or any activity that increases heart rate. Low intensity exercise, such as walking, is a safe way to begin. Those with COPD should participate in an activity that is enjoyable.

Carol Michaels MBA, ACE, ACSM is the founder of the Recovery Fitness® exercise program, developed to improve the recovery from cancer surgery and treatments and osteoporosis. Carol is an award-winning exercise specialist, nationally recognized presenter and consultant. She is the author of Exercises for Cancer Survivors, and the creator of a continuing education course in partnership with the National Federation of Professional Trainers. Carol was the 2012 PFP Trainer of the Year and the 2016 IDEA Fitness Personal Trainer of the Year. She is published in numerous magazines, newsletters, blogs and medical journals and has produced exercise videos which can be found on her website



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