Exercise as it relates to Disease/The importance of exercise for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?Edit

COPD is a condition caused by poor lung function which results in difficulty breathing(1). The two main types of COPD are:(1)

  1. Chronic bronchitis: long term inflammation of airways
  2. Emphysema: loss of elasticity in airways

Can I still exercise with COPD?Edit

Yes! Patients with COPD are less likely to be active and limit activities that cause shortness of breath(1). BUT it is important to follow an exercise program to improve breathing and the ability to carry out daily activities(1).

What is the best type of ‘cardio’ exercise for me?Edit

With COPD, the amount of time in which you can comfortably exercise for may be reduced(1), so you may find that during long, continuous exercise you have to rest(2). This means that one of the best ways to exercise is interval training, which alternates periods of work and rest(1)

How can interval exercise help?Edit

Interval training can improve your:

  • ability to perform daily activities and quality of life(1)
  • feeling of breathlessness during exercise(3)
  • overall exercise time(4)
  • work interval time before you need to rest(4)

Exercise recommendationsEdit

Walking is a great way to get started because it is simple and no equipment is needed(5). The following program can be used as a guide but is important to have an indicidualised program made with the help of an exercise physiologist.

General 'cardio' program for a patient with COPD(1)

Frequency: 3 days a week : Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Intensity: warm up = mild, noticeable to patient but not to observer; work periods = mild, some difficulty, noticeable to observer

Week 1
  • 5 min warm up
  • 2 x 5 min work periods with 5 min light movement as rest.
  • 5 min cool down.
Week 2
  • Add an extra 10 min work period so the total exercise time is 30 mins (1 x 5 min, 1 x 10 min, 1 x 5 min).
Week 3
  • Add an extra 10 min work period so the total exercise time is 40 mins (1 x 5 min, 1 x 10 min, 1 x 5 min, 1 x 10 min).
Week 4 onwards
  • Increase work intervals to maintain mild exertion, noticeable to observer.

Other tips that may be helpful to complete exerciseEdit

  • Pursed lipped breathing(2), which involves sealing the lips and breathing through the nose, may help reduce the feeling of breathlessness during and after exercise.

For more informationEdit


1. Wilson, M, Swank, AM & Felker, J. Exercise strategies for the individual with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 26(3): 58-63, 2004.

2. Kortianou EA, Nasis IG, Spetsioti ST, Daskalakis AM, Vogiatzis I. Effectiveness of interval exercise training in patients with COPD. Cardiopulmonary Pysical Therapy Journal. 21(3):12-19, 2010.

3. Vogiatzis, I, Nanas, S & Roussos, C. Interval training as an alternative modality to continous exercise in patients with COPD. European Respiratory Journal. 20:12-19, 2002.

4. Vogiatzis, I, Nanas, S, Kastanakis, E, Georgiadou, O, Papazahou, O & Roussos, C. Dynamic hyperinflation and tolerance to interval exercise in patients with advanced COPD. European Respiratory Journal. 24: 385-390, 2004.

5. Leung, RWM, Alison, JA, McKeough, ZJ, Peters MJ. Ground walk training improves functional exercise capacity more than cycle training in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy (Australian Physiotherapy Association). 56(2):105-112, 2010.

6. Spahija, J, de Marchie, M, Grassino, A. Effects of imposed pursed-lips breathing on respiratory mechanics and dyspnea at rest and during exercise in COPD. Chest. 128(2):640-650, 2005.