Physical Activity for People with COPD

Staying active should be a part of your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) care plan. It can help your body use oxygen better and ease breathing problems. It can also boost your quality of life and sense of well-being.

Here’s how to get started.

Get the Okay from Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor before you start working out. Your doctor may have you do an exercise test first. It will find out how your lungs work when under stress. This will let you know whether it is safe for you to workout.

Some people are afraid to workout even after their doctor has said it is safe for them to do so. It is normal to be worried, but it will not harm your lungs. The risk of health problems is greater for people who are not active than for those who are. Share any concerns you may have with your doctor.

A pulmonary rehabilitation program can also help you make a workout program that is right for both you and your lungs. If you are on oxygen, the program can teach you how to adjust your flow meter during activity.

Aim for 30 Minutes a Day

Most people with COPD should aim for at least 30 minutes of activity per day on most days of the week. Start slowly and work towards this goal over time. You can break up the activity over the day. For example, you can do three 10-minute sessions.

This type of activity should make your heart rate increase while you are doing it. Over time this makes your body better at using oxygen and decreases stress on lungs. Your heart will also be stronger. Look for options that are easily available. Examples include walk, dance, bike, bowl, swim, and hike. Choose something you enjoy and you will be more likely to stick with it.

Add strength exercises at least 2 days a week. Body weight exercises, elastic bands, and weights can all be tried. It can help to build lean muscle and strengthen bones. Some exercise may also improve upper body strength. This may aid breathing.

Warm Up and Cool Down

It is important to get your body and lungs ready to workout. Warm up for at least 5-15 minutes. You can do the same activity but start at a slow pace. Slowly increase the pace to workout levels.

It is equally important to cool down after your workout. Stopping quickly can make you feel lightheaded. Slowly lower the intensity of your workout over the last 5 minutes of your workout.

Watch for Signs of Overexertion

The rated perceived exertion scale (RPE) can help you find out if you are overdoing it. On a scale from 0 to 10, 0 would be easy effort (sitting in a chair) and 10 would be very heavy effort (end of a hard workout). You want to aim for 3-4 on this scale.

You may be doing too much if you have any of these signs:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Leg pain that is not caused by your workout
  • Chest pain

If you have any of these signs, then you should slow down. If your symptoms do not get better, then stop what you are doing. If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Lung Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


College of Family Physicians of Canada


COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dyname.... Updated March 20, 2019. Accessed April 24, 2019.
COPD: Exercise and activity guidelines. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: Updated September 14, 2018. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Exercise for someone with COPD. COPD Foundation website. Available at: Accessed May 7, 2019.
Physical activity and COPD. American Lung Association website. Available at: Updated February 4, 2019. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Last reviewed May 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 11/5/2019

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