St. Mark's Hospital - February 22, 2019

Exercise Can Ease Lung Disease Symptoms

People with asthma, chronic obstruc­tive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung problems often avoid exercise because they fear it’s unsafe. While exercising with lung disease can cause shortness of breath or wheezing, staying physically active can actually reduce side effects from lung disease and improve quality of life.

Doing the right amount and types of exercise is key to reducing breath­lessness and boosting overall energy, endurance and oxygen utilization. Consistent, doctor-approved exercise strengthens respiratory muscles and helps your heart send more oxygen to your body.

Not sure how where to start? Consider joining a pulmonary rehabili­tation program to learn how to exercise safely, even while using oxygen. If you want to exercise on your own, you have plenty of good options. Just be sure to ask your doctor or physical thera­pist which exercises are best for you. Always start slowly, rest when needed and stop any a activity that’s causing chest pain, nausea, dizziness or serious breathing problems.

Walking

Nervous about starting to exercise? Begin with low-intensity walks a few times a week. Start small by setting achievable goals like walking to the end of your block and back every day. Then slowly increase your distance and pace. Aim to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Walking is an ideal go-to exercise for those with asthma, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or COPD, and it's easy to do year-round. Just take your trek to a nearby mall or community gym when it’s too hot or cold outside or when outdoor air quality is poor.

Cycling

Biking on a trail or road may be too strenuous or anxiety-inducing for beginners or those worried about shortness of breath. Instead, opt for a stationary bike and enjoy the challenge of gradually increasing your pedaling speed and resistance in the gym.

Golfing

If you enjoy friendly com­petition, why not combine walking with a round of golf? Take breaks and ride in the cart when you need to, but try to increase the distance walked between holes. You’ll build endurance and decrease your resting heart rate and blood pressure while having fun with your friends.

Tai chi

This slow-paced exercise is suitable for all fitness levels and a great low-risk way to stay active. Through a series of controlled movements, stretches and deep breathing, tai chi can improve lung function and build strength.

Swimming and water aerobics

Swimming laps or attending water aerobics classes is an excellent low-impact activity. For those with asthma, indoor pools offer warm, moist air that is less likely to trigger symptoms. Water exercises are often easy to fit into vacation days, too. Simply head for the hotel pool.

Resistance exercises

Building up overall muscle strength helps ward off shortness of breath when doing everyday activities. You can exercise with resistance bands, hand weights or your own body weight. Do a vari­ety of exercises that work your upper body, lower body and core.

Test your functional fitness in 6 minutes.

You can learn a lot about your endurance level and heart and lung function with a simple walking test used by therapists to determine baseline fitness and measure progress.

To do the test at home, set up two points some distance apart on a flat surface. Set a timer for 6 minutes and walk laps between the points. Walk at your normal pace, using a cane or walker as needed. When the time is up, multiply laps walked by the distance between the points. Most people 55 and older can walk between 1,400 and 2,700 feet. If you can’t walk at least 984 feet, talk to your doctor about the results.