How Will Exercise Benefit My COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)?

Dyspnea, defined as difficult or labored breathing, is a hallmark of chronic lung disease. As the diagram above depicits, when people feel short of breath they naturally limit their physical activity. Unfortunately, this decrease in exercise only serves to compound the decreased respiratory function. It is a vicious cycle that can eventually lead to disability and even death. If you have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) you may be wondering if exercise is even possible for you. What can be done? Thankfully, there are answers and proven guidelines that can help you in your quest to become active again. 

What are the recommendations?

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests baseline physiologic testing of exercise capacity before beginning an exercise program. This will allow adaptations based on individual circumstances.

General guidelines for exercise prescription will include:

     - Walking and/or stationary bike as the preferred cardio modality

     - Exercise a minimum 3 to 5 days per week 

     - Intensity up to 50% of VO2 max, or as tolearted by symptoms

     - Resistance training to strengthen skeletal system (COPD has detrimental impact on skeletal structures)

     - Focus on inspiratory muscle strenghtening

Measuring your heart rate is a good way to monitor your level of exertion during exercise. Because the risk of desaturation (decreasing levels of oxygen in the blood) is high in chronic lung disease, it is wise to advance your exercise program carefully and slowly. Of course, any significant changes to your activity level warrants consultation with your physician.

Studies have demonstrated a significant positive impact from aerobic and resistance training in those with chronic lung disease. Some of these positive effects include increased quality of life, decreased dyspnea during activity, decreased anxiety and depression, and increased physical capacity. These are remarkable outcomes that can benefit you as well. If you are suffering with COPD and would like to learn more about how exercise can improve your lung function, we recommend calling the office to schedule a visit with Dr. Carfagno at your earliest convenience.


Bryce Kirkman, MS-IV

David Carfagno, D.O., C.A.Q.S.M.



American College of Sports Medicine. Other Clinical Conditions Influencing Exercise Prescription. ACSM's Guideline for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Seventh Edition. 2006:205-51.

Emtner M, Wadell K. Effects of exercise training in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - a narrative review for FYSS. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Jan 2016. doi:10.1136/v=bjsports-2015-095872


Disclaimer:   Articles are based on real cases seen at Scottsdale Sports Medicine. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. Please consult your medical professional for individualized healthcare.