In my last blog, Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease, I discussed how exercise may help individuals with a major chronic disease. In this blog, I discuss COPD and how exercise can improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected. COPD is an acronym for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is an umbrella term defined by the CDC as, “a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.” This is in contrast to some other pulmonary disorders that restrict lung expansion.
COPD is a global disease, but due to underreporting it is often overlooked. In developed countries it is often associated with smoking; however, its prevalence in many developing countries can be linked to outdoor, occupational, and indoor air pollution. Common symptoms include
- Shortness of breath at rest or with mild exertion
- Difficulty taking a deep breath
- Excess sputum production
Diagnosis and Treatment
Unlike many other health conditions, COPD is not diagnosed by a single test. Physicians often use a combination of medical history, imaging, and special breathing tests called pulmonary function tests to determine a diagnosis. Lower pulmonary function test scores indicate increased severity of COPD. Home treatment often includes medications such as bronchodilators, mucolytics, or supplemental oxygen. If you have COPD and plan on exercising, I recommend gathering your treatment information for your trainer so that they can determine any contraindications to exercise.
Counteracting the Downward Spiral
Because physical activity makes them short of breath, many individuals with COPD abstain from exercise. This sedentary behavior leads to increased health risks. Their heart becomes weaker, blood vessels are less flexible and more likely to rupture, and muscles atrophy from the lack of use. These physiological changes make it harder to perform physical activity and accelerate the downward spiral many people with this condition face. Because it is an irreversible disease, COPD cannot be cured with exercise. However, exercise can drastically improve the quality of life people experience.
How Exercise Helps People with COPD
The 2019 Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) Report states that exercise training can increase physical activity levels outside of the gym in COPD patients. It recommends that they participate in multiple brief bouts of high-intensity work. By doing so, these individuals can stress their cardiovascular system without putting it over the edge. Over time individuals with COPD experience similar cardiorespiratory adaptations to healthy populations, including
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased resting heart rate
- Increased blood flow to peripheral tissues
- Improved heart function
Resistance training also enables this population to complete activities of daily living more readily by increasing strength and muscular endurance. However, research shows that strength training does not improve their health status. A specific type of resistance training called inspiratory muscle training has been shown to increase the strength of inspiratory muscles, allowing individuals to take deeper breaths. Flexibility training is also believed to improve posture to allow for easier breathing, but no studies have specifically looked at this area.
NIFS Can Help
If you or somebody you know has COPD but doesn’t know where to start, speak with your physician about starting an exercise program. If cleared, come to NIFS, where we have trainers who are educated and certified to work with special populations. The Healthy Lifestyle Program is specifically designed to work with populations who need adaptations to exercise. If you are interested in joining the Healthy Lifestyle Program, stop on by and ask us what we can do for you!
This blog was written by Brandon Wind, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.