Does Mom say she feels too weak to exercise? Does Dad run out of breath just walking down the street? People dealing with COPD often believe that exercise will make things worse. Actually, in moderation, quite the opposite is true.
Very real benefits. Even people with severe COPD can become more physical. Something as simple as arm lifts or singing can improve breathing and reduce fatigue. Exercise also helps with the fuzzy thinking many older adults experience with their COPD—because it gets more oxygen to the brain. Plus, people who engage in physical activity even just three times a week have been able to reduce the severity of COPD flares. If they have to be hospitalized, they get home sooner. Best of all, it’s not that hard to achieve these improvements.
Talk with the doctor first. Don’t challenge your loved one to a mile starting out! A balanced approach is required with COPD. The goal is to stretch breathing capability and stamina a little bit at a time without getting overly tired. Your family member’s doctor can give guidelines about when to stop and when to push past that initial feeling of “today is not a good day.”
Ask for pulmonary rehabilitation. The doctor may be able to prescribe a special exercise class for people with COPD. Exercising under supervision supports your loved one to feel safe. A class also presents the chance to talk with others who face the same challenges, which helps combat the isolation and depression that are common with COPD.
Tips for making it easier. Have your loved one
- pick an activity that is pleasurable;
- start small and increase gradually;
- find an exercise buddy. This adds fun and supports commitment;
- ask to be trained on “pursed lips breathing.” This technique makes it easier to exhale deeply and bring in enough oxygen.