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Staying Active: Exercise Types and Tips with COPD

COPD Basics

April 30, 2024

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Photography by BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy United

Photography by BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy United

by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Gregory Minnis, DPT


by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Gregory Minnis, DPT


Living with COPD doesn’t mean you should skip staying active. Research suggests that adding movement to your routine can be beneficial.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can quite literally take your breath away, making it difficult to want to stay active. Regular exercise can help you breathe better, help your body use oxygen more efficiently, improve your mood and sleep, and provide many other benefits that can improve your quality of life.

But before you hop on a bike, make sure you discuss exercise with a doctor who can help assess your overall health and give you a place to start.

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Ways to exercise

According to a 2022 research review, reduced physical activity associated with COPD increases the risk of death from many different causes.

Though COPD may feel limiting, several forms of exercise can help you stay active and reap the benefits of regular physical activity.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation combines education about COPD with exercises to improve lung function and ease your symptoms. It typically happens in group sessions, allowing you to meet other people who live with COPD.

The goal, according to the American Lung Association (ALA), is to help you become stronger and more physically active. It’s also to set you up for success so you’ll have greater confidence in your abilities and increased strength when you leave rehabilitation.

Cardio exercises

Cardio exercises such as walking and biking can improve your lung function and help strengthen your heart. The ALA suggests checking with your doctor about doing these types of workouts a few times a week for about 30 minutes per session.

Strength training

Strength training includes a variety of pushing and pulling exercises, as outlined by the American Heart Association. Strength training often involves free weights, but you can also use:

  • your body weight
  • kettlebells
  • machines
  • bands

If you’re new to strength training, you may want to work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to set up a routine that will work well for you. Joining a class at a gym or signing up for an at-home exercise program may also help.

No matter how you get started, check in with a doctor beforehand to decide what’s best for you and your COPD.


Stretching is a generally beginner-friendly way to start moving. The ALA says stretching can offer some relaxation while improving your flexibility.

Several forms of exercise — such as yoga, tai chi, and Pilates — incorporate stretching. If you’re brand-new to exercise, taking a class at a local gym or following an at-home video guide may be helpful.

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Tips for exercise

Exercise has many potential benefits. If you’re having trouble getting started or don’t know where to start, here are some tips.

Work with an expert

If you’ve never exercised regularly or you’re interested in trying new forms of exercise, you may want to start by working with an expert. Options include:

  • home workout programs
  • group instruction at gyms or health clubs
  • physical therapy
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • personal training

Find a location

While group sessions or personal training may be helpful, you don’t need anything fancy to get exercise. Plus, you might choose a location based on whether you use supplemental oxygen. You should feel comfortable exercising at your preferred location. Options include:

  • in your home
  • in the community
  • at your local gym
  • with a friend or friends

Gather your equipment

What you need to get started with exercise can depend on what you want to do.

For resistance training, you may want to pick a few different sizes of weights or resistance bands. You can also use your body weight for many exercises.

For a cardio workout, you may need only a good pair of walking shoes, swimwear, or a bicycle. If your outdoor space is limited, an indoor treadmill or stationary bike is a great alternative.

For some workouts, such as walking and yoga, you don’t need to invest much money to get a good workout.

If you’re approved for physical therapy, you may want to check with your insurance to see how much is covered. Some insurance plans may also offer discounted memberships to gyms or health clubs.

Wear your oxygen mask

If you use oxygen to treat your COPD, the ALA recommends that you continue to wear your oxygen mask during exercise. You’ll probably need to talk with your doctor about adjusting the flow to accommodate the increased need during exercise.

Remember to breathe

Odd as it may sound, breathing correctly during exercise is not always easy or natural. Breathe in as you start an exercise, and exhale as you reach the more difficult part of the exercise.

Taking slow, easy breaths can also help keep you from losing your breath as you exercise.

Pace yourself and take breaks as needed

Give yourself some grace when you exercise! Showing up is already a major step. Take it slow and easy, especially when you’re getting started. Take breaks as you need to.

Consider breaking up a workout into reasonable chunks for you, or look for shorter programs to follow.

Know when to avoid exercise

Most people should plan to exercise regularly, but it’s not always a good idea for everyone. The ALA suggests avoiding exercise if you:

  • are feeling nauseated
  • currently have a fever or an infection
  • are out of oxygen
  • have chest pain
  • are feeling weak, unsteady, or dizzy
  • are experiencing increased shortness of breath or worsening COPD symptoms


Exercise can help you feel better and improve your overall outlook. You can participate in many forms of exercise when living with COPD. Just make sure to start off easy and build up your strength and heart health over time.

Medically reviewed on April 30, 2024

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About the author

Jenna Fletcher

Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.

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