COPD and Exercise

12.14.14
Health & Wellness

YOUR BEST LIFE
Tips for Living Healthy in South Arkansas

Jason Rogers
Manager, JRMC Wellness Centers

According to the American Thoracic Society, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, is an umbrella term that covers conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma – conditions of airflow obstruction that reduce the ability to sufficiently empty the lungs. Although the incidence of COPD in the United States is increasing, with an estimated 16.5 million sufferers currently, a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine showed that physical activity can help protect against COPD development and progression and slow lung function decline. Some individuals with the disease worry that exercise will make their breathing worse, however, in many cases the opposite is true. It is actually the lack of activity that can worsen breathing problems.

The fact is that too many people with COPD fall into a downward spiral called progressive de-conditioning. The process typically goes like this: they often feel breathless so they avoid activities they believe will aggravate the condition, this avoidance leads to less overall physical activity, less overall physical activity leads to weaker muscles, weaker muscles leads to greater breathlessness during activity … and the cycle begins again. The result of this, all too commonly, is that the person ultimately becomes homebound. Appropriate physical activity can be of enormous benefit to anyone, in any stage of COPD. From a health standpoint, physical activity can reduce the number of days spent in the hospital, the risk of developing heart disease, and the incidence of lung infections. Physically and mentally, exercise reduces breathlessness, improves muscle strength, increases energy and stamina, and improves mood and self-esteem.

Individuals with COPD may have additional cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, so it is essential that a physician sign off on any new program of physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine states that “Moderate exercise on a daily basis has been shown to decrease the sensation of breathlessness and produce the greatest improvements in functional capacity and health. For most patients, 15 minutes of moderate physical activity, 3 days per week is probably the minimum amount for ensuring exercise benefits.” Physical activity should include both aerobic conditioning and strength training. Aerobic conditioning, typically involving the major muscle groups of the lower body like walking and cycling, can be performed every day. Strength training exercises for the entire body can be performed on alternating days. The volume of physical activity should be very low at the outset to determine an individual’s tolerance level. The duration and frequency of cardiovascular exercise may initially be 5-10 minutes, 2-3 days per week. Strength training exercises for the major muscle groups of the body like squats, chest presses, and abdominal crunches may only consist of one set of 8-12 repetitions once or twice a week. Volume should then increase VERY gradually over time until the individual is exercising most days of the week for 30-40 minutes a session. In addition to exercise training, education from medical personnel on the techniques of “belly breathing” and “pursed lip breathing” can help individuals cope with periods of breathlessness and reduce exercise anxiety.

In order to begin (or continue) a program of physical activity, an individual with lung disease should first consult his or her physician. For many people, progress can be made by having an awareness of their breathing, developing strategies to help manage it, and having a will to succeed! By learning proper breathing techniques and using precaution, physical activity can become one of the most important tools in the arsenal of those suffering from COPD.

The JRMC Wellness Centers, located in Pine Bluff and White Hall, offer a variety of fitness options for all ages and interests. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment, personal trainers and a full schedule of Les Mills classes are available at both facilities. For more information call the Pine Bluff (541-7890) or White Hall (850-8000) facility.

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