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Experts » Linda Crowell


I have COPD and use oxygen 24/7. I know I should exercise but just can’t bring myself to do it. Any suggestions?

Good for you! A good exercise program is something we should all strive to implement in our daily lives, including people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Walking is the most readily available form of exercise so I will focus on this component today.

People with COPD often times avoid physical activity due to the limitations encountered with shortness of breath. Also, loving family and friends may encourage someone with COPD not to exert themselves, thinking their loved one is doing more harm than good. But, inactivity works against you by deconditioning your body, thus making your muscles less strong and less efficient. This, in turn, makes even the simplest daily activities more difficult with regard to energy and breathing. This deconditioning effect can be reversed with a regular exercise program.

First and foremost, you should check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. The components of your exercise program should be checked out by your doctor for safety before you proceed. For example, walking too fast or too far could put excessive strain on your lungs and/or your heart. Or, certain physical activities may cause your blood oxygen level to fall too low. Your doctor can help you with these issues.

Seeing as you are already on oxygen, make sure you use it when you exercise. Again, check with your doctor for the liter flow you should be using during exercise or exertion. You may need a higher liter flow during these times, as opposed to sitting and watching TV. Again, your doctor will help you with this.

Use your bronchodilator if one has been prescribed. For best results, use it 20 to 30 minutes before exercising.

The best time of day for you to exercise depends on you, your ability to breathe and your schedule. Some people breathe better in the mornings and find exercise to be easier then. Others, for the same reasons, prefer the afternoon or early evening times.

Wait at least one hour after a meal to exercise. Working out is much more difficult when you have a full tummy.

Walk on level areas if possible. If you encounter even the slightest inclines, you may need to slow your pace.

Walking outdoors during inclement weather may cause you to experience more shortness of breath. On those days when walking outside is not an option, walk inside of your home or go to the mall where the environment is controlled.

Plan a progressive program beginning with short distances and a slow pace. This could be 5 minutes at a leisurely stroll. You can gradually increase the duration as you gain strength and endurance. By gradual, this could mean adding just one minute to your time each day you walk. Decide which days you will do this. It may be easier for you to succeed if you start with something like every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This will allow your body to rest between exercise sessions. Once you have become accustomed to every other day, you may add another day to your program. Give it some time to let your body accustom to the increased demands, and then add another day. Before you know it, you could be walking 5 days a week for 15-20 minutes per day! The key words here are "slowly" and "gradually."

Another option may be to join a Pulmonary Rehabilitation program. Pulmonary Rehab is a comprehensive educational program about lung diseases, coping skills, depression, infection control, and many other topics. They also work with people to develop a specialized exercise program geared to each individual.

Hope this gets you started with an exercise program you can live and breathe with. Until next time, Breathe Easy and enjoy your walk.