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Living with COPD


Exercise is an important part of a healthy life. If your heart and breathing muscles are in shape, they can work with less oxygen. That means you don't have to breathe in as much air to do the same amount of work. You're stronger and can do more before you feel tired.

Your exercises don't have to be fancy or complicated, but they do have to be performed safely and on a regular basis. Even a small amount of exercise is better than none at all.

Before starting any type of exercise program, consult your family doctor.

Why is exercise good for people with COPD?

While exercise is good for everyone, it's essential for people with COPD. In fact, your physical and mental well-being depends on it. There are many benefits to exercise:

  • It helps you take control of your condition. Although exercise won't reverse your lung disease, it's an effective way to help improve your everyday quality of life.
  • It helps you use oxygen more efficiently. Exercise strengthens your breathing muscles as well as your arm and leg muscles.
  • It can help you maintain your independence. The more you exercise regularly, the easier routine activities - like shopping, cooking and cleaning - become. Being able to do more keeps you motivated.
  • It keeps you from landing in the hospital. Exercise can improve your general feeling of well-being while keeping you healthy - and living at home.
  • It helps you maintain your weight. Excess fat - especially around the stomach - tends to press on the diaphragm, making it harder to breathe. Exercise is a great way to keep your weight under control.
  • It can keep you from slipping into a downward spiral. The less you do, the less you'll be able to do. Exercise stops this vicious cycle of inactivity, helping you breathe easier.
  • It can improve your mood. Regular activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of moderate depression and help you feel more relaxed.
  • It can improve your sleep. Exercise can help you sleep better, giving you more energy during the day.

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What kind of exercise is good for people with COPD?

Stretching and breathing exercises, plus a daily walk, are a good start. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise around. It's simple, cheap, and can be done anywhere, any time of year. Try walking around your home, at the nearby mall, or a local park. In general, try to exercise at least three times per week.

Over time, there are three distinct kinds of exercise to incorporate into your regular routine:

  1. Stretching. Stretching relaxes you and improves your flexibility. It's also a good way to warm up before and cool down after exercising.
  2. Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, allowing your body to use oxygen more efficiently. Swimming, walking, climbing stairs, and dancing are all great aerobic exercises.
  3. Resistance training. When all your muscles are stronger - especially in your upper body - your breathing muscles have an easier time. Working out with light weights are a good way to build strength.

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What advice do you have for beginners?

Whether you're walking your dog around the block or swimming laps in a pool, keep the following in mind:

  • Consult your doctor. Before beginning any exercise program speak with your doctor. He or she may advise you to use your bronchodilators before exercising, or recommend using supplemental oxygen during your workouts.
  • Pace yourself. No matter what kind of exercise you're doing, never rush! Take your time. Rest if you ever feel dizzy.
  • Be patient. Start off slow – with an exercise level that's suited to your fitness level and breathing ability. Over time, you can build up to your target fitness level.
  • Set goals. Setting a fitness goal is the first step to achieving it. If you want to be able to walk for 10 minutes without becoming breathless, make that your goal.
  • Relax and think positive. Relaxation and a positive outlook can help you get the most out of any exercising.
  • Watch pollution levels and weather. Don't exercise outside if smog or pollution levels are high. As well, avoid exercising outside on days that are too cold, too hot, or too humid.
  • Find exercises that are right for you. You're more likely to stick with an exercise program when it's something you enjoy. If you like to dance, sign-up for ballroom dancing lessons. If you like to swim, check out the programs at your local pool. If you'd like to try yoga or pilates, contact your community centre to see if they offer courses.

For more information about exercising with COPD, visit the BreathWorks Online Order Desk to download or order our free 6-page fact sheet entitled "Should I Exercise ?".

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More tips about exercise:
  • Before starting, sit and rest for 5 minutes. Take your pulse.
  • Do light warm-up exercises.
  • Take adequate rest periods during your exercise session.
  • Practise breathing techniques during your exercise.
  • Commit to a regular exercise program.
  • Avoid sudden bursts of activity.
  • Watch for warning signs of a COPD flare-up
  • Exercise in a controlled environment.
  • Exercise in moderation.

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Sexuality and COPD

COPD affects many areas of your life; sexuality is one of them. COPD affects your physical health; you may get short of breath when you are having intimate relations. COPD also affects your emotional health; you may feel anxious, depressed, or lonely. Many people with COPD (and their partners) are nervous about having sex. By following this advice, you can enjoy sexual intimacy and benefit form feeling close to your partner.

The person with COPD will sooner or later experience shortness of breath during sexual intimacy. A small minority of people with COPD can manage their shortness of breath by using a bronchodilator before or during sexual relations. However, for most people with COPD the fear of becoming short of breath may lead to avoidance of sexual activity or an inability to maintain sexual arousal. The non-COPD partner may believe that abstaining from sexual activity is in the COPD partner's best interest. Quite the contrary, resuming intimacy and closeness with the partner can help to decrease the loneliness and isolation of the person with COPD.

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Some things to keep in mind about COPD and sexuality:
  • COPD does not diminish sexual ability; it is only the frequency of sexual activity that is limited, as are all strenuous physical activities.
  • The physical effort required for sexual intercourse is approximately equal to that required to climb one flight of stairs at a normal pace.
  • Beginning an exercise program will help to build up the COPD person's tolerance to activity and in turn help to reduce shortness of breath with activity.
  • Research findings show that the effort required for intercourse does not raise blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate to a level that is considered dangerous.
  • Medication specific for your lungs will not affect your sexual drive; however, if you are taking other medications (e.g. antidepressants) it is important to ask your physician how these may interfere with your sexual drive.
  • Some changes in sexuality are not related to your lung disease but are normal changes with aging. For instance, slower erections and delayed orgasms are normal in middle and later life.
  • Because of the physical effort required, it is important to have adequate rests both before and during sexual relations. In other words plan your activity for your best time of day and rest at intervals during the activity if necessary.
  • Clear bronchial secretions prior to sexual activity.
  • Plan to have sexual activity immediately after using a bronchodilator.
  • If you use supplemental oxygen for activity plan to use the same amount of oxygen during sexual relations.
  • Avoid sexual activity immediately after a heavy meal, after consuming alcohol, in an uncomfortable room temperature or when under emotional stress. All of these factors will only increase your fatigability.
  • Choose sex positions that are less energy consuming and that avoid pressure on the chest. For instance, side-to-side position during intercourse is more comfortable and less tiring than the top-bottom position.
  • Have the able-bodied partner assume a more active role so that the COPD partner becomes less fatigued or anxious.
  • Avoid allergic elements in the environment (e.g. perfumes, hair sprays) that may induce bronchospasm.
  • Remember that simply touching, being touched and being close to someone is essential to help a person feel loved, special and truly a partner in the relationship.

If after reading these points you still have unanswered questions or concerns, talk with your doctor or health care professional.

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