Benefits of Exercise When Living with Chronic Obtrusive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

COPD is characterised by an irreversible decrease in pulmonary function, and in severe stages, leads to increased dyspnoea (shortness of breath). COPD is an umbrella term that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma which isn't fully reversible. As COPD increases in severity, functionality gradually declines and there is a loss of fitness and muscular atrophy. At this stage, medication is not enough to maintain health. 

Increased inflammatory markers are present in individuals with COPD and this plays a role in reduced muscle strength. However, these effects can be lessened during physical activity as the muscles produce a molecule which inhibits this inflammatory marker in both the blood and the muscle.

Exercise and COPD

Evidence shows that endurance training of four weeks or more improves quality of life, decreases overall fatigue and reduces shortness of breath. Fitness and relatively high intensity exercise has been proven to be most beneficial. Exercise will not improve lung function for individuals with COPD, however, it will have positive effects on supporting musculature, including the heart.

Other benefits of exercise for clients with COPD include:

  • Cardiovascular conditioning
  • Reduced ventilation at a given work load
  • Improved breathing efficiency
  • Reduced hyperinflation (reduction in ability to inhale and completely empty lungs)
  • Decreased sensitivity to shortness of breath
  • Improved muscle strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved body composition
  • Improved balance
  • Enhanced body image

An appropriate level of physical activity can result in improvements in oxygen utilisation, work capacity and anxiety levels. In individuals with COPD, exercise is recommended daily with the main form of exercise being aerobic training, complimented with strength training 2-3 times per week. Clients must aim to improve their walking distance; therefore, it is imperative to complete initial exercise testing to create a specialised exercise plan.

If you or someone you know is struggling with COPD, book in with an Exercise Physiologist at Kieser, who can provide you with more information on how to exercise right for your condition.  


Durstine, J.L. (2009). ACSM’s Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities. Human Kinetics, pg 129

Pedersen, B.K., & Saltin. B. (2006). Evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in chronic disease. Scandinavian Journal for Medical Science & Sports, 16(1), 3–63. 

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