COPD-Friendly Exercises to Try
It's important when starting exercise to find something you enjoy, as this will mean you will find it easier to incorporate your activity into your daily life.
Mobility is a factor to consider as well; if you’re confined to a wheelchair or your home then you will have to start with exercises that are safe to do depending on your circumstance.
- Breathing Techniques — One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to learn how to control your breathing. This will help you if you’re having an exacerbation as well as when you’re exerting yourself. Breathing techniques are an important tool for me to use when running, cycling or swimming, as using oxygen efficiently is crucial for me when training in these disciplines. Again, your doctor should be able to help with this or suggest a pulmonary rehabilitation class that will teach you the techniques required.
- Stretching Exercises — Whether you’re restricted in your mobility or not, stretching exercises are a great way to start and end an exercise session as it can relax your muscles. Your doctor should be able to prescribe a series of stretches that suit your circumstance.
- Weights — One of the benefits of a weights session is, whether you’re mobile or not, the session can work for you. Weights can be purely for building strength to help with daily chores or can be adapted to a combination of strength and cardio to aid in cardio fitness.
- Walking — Whether you are outdoors or on a treadmill, walking is a great way to ease yourself into exercise. You are able to control your pace, distance and duration to suit your level of fitness. On a treadmill you can vary the incline to change the intensity of your workout in the same way walking up hills effects your intensity outdoors.
It's About Being Active
This is just a small sample of exercises that can be adapted according to the severity of your condition. It doesn't matter where you’re starting point is, because as soon as you start to become active your body will appreciate it.
In a perfect world, having your doctor and an exercise professional involved with your exercise program from the start will put you in a good place to make exercise a part of your life. If you are unable to find the appropriate people to help you start exercise, there are many national associations that can point you in the right direction.
Not enough emphasis is placed on fueling your body for exercise, but if your serious about improving your quality of life, nutrition places an important role. Exercising when not fueled correctly can often result in lethargic sessions with poor technique, which can result in injury.
There's a wealth of information online in relation to nutrition and some can be quite confusing. If you are finding it difficult to separate the good nutritional advice from the bad remember this rule: if it's processed try and avoid it, if it's natural eat it in moderation. This rule has served me well over the years.
Sustainability Is Key
Sadly, many people with COPD who start on the exercise journey find it too difficult to keep going and drop out. Feeling breathless can trigger anxiety attacks and make us question whether what we’re doing is really helping. What we have to realize is we are working our muscles and exerting ourselves, and being short of breath is normal in that situation.
Experience has taught me that it’s all about starting at a pace that you can cope with. I see too many people set too high an expectation, only to be frustrated they aren't getting the results they wanted in the time they expected.
It’s a similar story to the many people who turn up at the gym for the first time at the end of winter and tell their instructor that they want to have a perfect body by summer. Change takes time, commitment and patience; if we continue to burn ourselves out striving for unrealistic expectations, eventually we just give up.
The single most important rule of starting an exercise program is sustainability, because without a plan to sustain your program, you will not stick to it. A sustainable program should be written in consultation with your exercise instructor and your respiratory specialist. Together they can do a series of tests to determine your baseline exercise capacity. Keeping your oxygen levels in a safe range is very important when exercising, so you don’t become hypoxic and put too much stress on your heart.
Using exercise equipment in a controlled environment like a gym can be a good starting point, as equipment like treadmills, cross trainers and exercise bikes can be set at a low pace to start with. The other advantage of a gym is that you are limiting environmental factors such as air pollution and pollen. If you’re like me and have allergies to carpets and dust, then a gym with hard floors will be beneficial. Be thorough in your preparation and you'll start your exercise program at a level you can sustain and gradually build your exercise capacity.
Making a Change
When making a decision to start exercising for COPD, it can pay to write down the advantages and disadvantages and then make an informed decision.
Exercise strengthens our muscles and the stronger our muscles, the less effort we use to breath and the less breathless we become. Very easy really, except for the fact that exercise means being short of breath, and being short of breath is something that COPD patients like to avoid.
Exercising now is far more difficult than it was before I was diagnosed with COPD. When I'm not training for a race, I aim for 1.5 hours exercise a day — roughly 10 percent of my waking hours. Doing this allows me to work full-time in our two businesses without having to have daytime naps (as I did when first diagnosed with COPD) and to function relatively normally.
We know COPD is a degenerative disease, so we can’t significantly improve our lung capacity, but we can slow the process down by implementing lifestyle changes. Giving up smoking, having a heathy diet and exercise is the best way you can get on the road to achieving and maintaining a better quality of life.
While I still have my bad days, they are few and far between and I have much better control of my breathing.
Start the New You Today
If this post has motivated you to make a change, then do something straight away rather than just thinking, “That sounds like a good idea, I'll start next week.”
Sit down and write an action plan and determine how much time you can devote each day to your plan. You may not be able to see a respiratory specialist as quick as you’d like but you can make other changes in your life, such as your diet or talking to a gym or fitness instructor or personal trainer about starting some simple stretching exercises to get you started.
In the Ironman events I’ve completed so far the most important tool I’ve had in training and on race day is my mind. Your mind tells your body what to do!
Success is guaranteed when failure is not an option.