by Kate Maliha, MA (HKin)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is usually caused by smoking but has other environmental causes as well. It goes without saying that COPD sufferers who currently smoke should quit as the first step in managing their conditions. Quitting will reduce the severity of your condition, improve your quality of life and likely help you live longer.
It is important to avoid exercise if your condition has worsened. You should get immediate care if you are experiencing a rapid increase in cough, sputum and mucus production (especially if yellow or green), increased shortness of breath, and blue lips or fingers. These symptoms should never be ignored, as exacerbations to your condition can be serious and life-threatening. Here are a few ways to make exercise safer and more manageable for those with COPD:
1. Make sure to take your prescribed medications, as they will reduce or relieve symptoms.
2. If you have an inhaler, keep it nearby when exercising, and take it as needed.
3. Do not drink cold beverages during exercise, as they may tighten your chest and impair your breathing. Drinks should be either warm or lukewarm.
4. Take frequent rest periods during exercise in order to conserve breath and energy.
5. Start exercise very slowly, and keep exercise periods short. If possible, sessions should eventually build up to five to six sets of exercises with rest periods of one or two minutes in between.
6. Avoid isometric exercise (holding the contraction without moving the joint). You should move slowly through each exercise without holding your breath.
7. Do not perform movements above chest level, and avoid overhead movements with weights as they can increase both your blood pressure and pressure in the chest.
8. Anchoring your arms on your knees or a supportive surface can help your shoulders to support your body and allow your chest to expand and open up your breathing.
9. Breathe deeply and try to relax during exercise.
10. If you attach small ribbons to a fan, this may help decrease your anxiety during exercise. Seeing air movement can help relax you so that you can breathe more freely.
References available upon request. Please consult a medical professional before starting this or any other exercise program. This article does not constitute medical advice.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the owner of Love Your Age (www.loveyourage.ca), a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.