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COPD: Boost Your Strength with Exercise

Regular exercise can make it easier for you to breathe. It strengthens the muscles you use to inhale and exhale. It can also help your body use oxygen more efficiently. Both are important benefits for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Strength training done two or three times a week can improve your overall fitness level.

Strength training builds muscles by using your own body weight, free weights, or exercise machines. The goal is to gradually increase resistance, which then acts to increase your muscle strength. An example of strength training would be doing bicep curls with three-pound weights and gradually--as your strength improves--increasing the weight to five pounds, then eight pounds, or more. 

Create a routine

Check with your health care provider about the level of strength training that makes sense for you, and keep these ground rules in mind:

  • Warm up first with a five- to 10-minute walk or stretching.

  • Start with easy exercises and build up gradually.

  • Exhale during the more strenuous phase of the exercise and inhale during the less strenuous phase. For example, when you do standing push-ups, exhale as you push away from the wall and inhale as you lean in toward the wall.

  • Rest at least one day between strengthening workouts.

Get started

Here are two strength-training exercises you can do in your own home. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Rest for a minute or two between sets. Follow these steps:

  • Squats. Stand in front of a sturdy chair as though you’re about to sit in it. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your arms straight out in front of your shoulders. Bend your knees and hips, slowly lowering your bottom toward the chair to a count of four. Stop just before you reach the seat, and pause. (If this is too hard, don’t go as low.) Rise up to a count of two. Keep your back straight. Always check your form and don't let your knees go forward past your toes. Moving past your toes can result in knee injuries.

  • Standing push-ups. Stand facing an empty wall, a little more than an arm’s length away. Put your arms straight out in front of your shoulders and lean forward, placing your palms against the wall. Bend your elbows, slowly lowering your body toward the wall to a count of four, and pause. Straighten your arms, pushing yourself back up to a count of two. Don’t lock your elbows. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Rest for a minute or two between sets.

By doing these simple workouts at home, you can take steps to help improve your strength and your breathing.