Getting Started With Exercise as a COPD Patient
If exercise is important for people without COPD, isn't it even more important for people with COPD?
A key ingredient for improved quality of life for people with COPD is improving respiratory muscle strength. Many studies into endurance exercise have found significant benefits in strengthening respiratory muscles which in turn lead to greater exercise capacity.
A combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise programs can be created for most COPD patients that can significantly improve both skeletal and respiratory muscle strength and endurance.
Many people with COPD become panic-stricken at the mere suggestion of an exercise program since it would make them even more breathless than normal. But the golden rule of entering into any exercise is to start slowly and work within your boundaries.
So, if you’re not already incorporating exercise into your lifestyle, then maybe it's time. Here's how to get started.
See Your Doctor
Before you start on any exercise program, it's important to check with your doctor about what your limitations are. The biggest mistake a COPD patient can make is starting an exercise regime without knowing what they are capable of.
Before I first started training for events my doctor had me undergo exercise stress testing to see what my lungs could tolerate. The stage of your COPD and your history of exercising in most cases will govern where your starting point is.
After your doctor has received the results of your exercise stress test they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Whether you have a chronic disease or not, nutrition is an important part of exercise and should not be ignored. To get the most out of our bodies we need to fuel them properly so we have the energy required to exercise regularly. It's important with nutrition to develop an eating plan that is not only full of good quality foods, but foods you enjoy.
Eating good quality food should be part of your lifestyle and not just a fad. A nutritionist will be able to make planning your new way of eating easier.
Many people associate nutritional food with eating a lot of tasteless food that doesn't satisfy their appetite. This may have been somewhat true in the past, however today with all the research into nutrition and available recipes, I’ve found not only is it easier to have a good eating plan but the available recipes are tasty and satisfying.
Having measures in place to make yourself accountable for exercise is a good way to make it habit. Whether it's committing to exercise with friends, gym classes, or entering events.
We all need something to make us follow through with what we set out to achieve. When I was able I used to train with my friends either by going on bike rides or running together.
Now that I can no longer keep up with them I've had to find new ways to make myself accountable, like entering events I have to train for and training with my wife. It's important to find a way to make yourself accountable, and if you can do that with company it's an added social bonus.
What Worked for Me
Starting out on an exercise program after being diagnosed with COPD was like going back in time. I had to learn about my body all over again, what it could do, how long it could do it for and the frequency I could venture out.
It all started with walking for me; short slow walks turned into long slow walks and so I progressed. Building your exercise capacity as a COPD patient is a much slower process than a healthy person, as your capabilities are limited by the amount of oxygen you have available to use.
My doctor had given me strict instructions not to elevate my heart rate over 150 bpm for any length of time; this was due to me becoming hypoxic above this level. So everything for me was slow, but as my fitness grew so did my tolerance to exercise and with that I was able reach new levels.
In time I was able to start cycling and then swimming; being able to do this motivated me to do more and make the decision to return to triathlons.
For me to reach this stage took a lot of discipline, hard work and determination. Exercise was no longer easy like it was before being diagnosed with COPD, laboring to breathe standing still is hard, so breathing under exertion has its limitations.
There's no doubt that the more you do the better you can do it, and while I still find exercising hard work, my body has adapted to working with a decreased oxygen supply.
The most important thing I've learned in regard to exercising with COPD is you have to have consistency. Exercise can't be just an eight-week program, it has to be part of your lifestyle at least three or four days a week of activity — for me it's seven days a week.