News & Insights 25 August 2021

Managing COPD symptoms with physical activity

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive life-threatening lung disease that makes breathing difficult. It is currently the third leading cause of death in the world after strokes and heart disease. The difficulty breathing is usually progressive and is caused by an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to noxious particles or gases, usually cigarette smoke. Besides smoking, being sedentary is one of the main risk factors for COPD.

Although there is not currently a cure for COPD, it can be managed through various medication and lifestyle changes. Research has shown that regular physical activity is highly beneficial for people living with COPD. In fact, it is one of the best things you can do as it can help increase your fitness, improve your wellbeing, reduce your symptoms, and improve your quality of life. This is because physical activity helps blood circulate and the heart deliver oxygen around your body. It also strengthens respiratory muscles, making it easier to breathe.

Individuals with COPD are generally less engaged in physical activity than their healthy peers. Many suffering from the condition may feel that activity may make it difficult to breathe in the short term, but avoidance of activities can cause the COPD to progress further and thus it is important to find activities that work for the individual. There are many non-vigorous activities suitable for anyone with COPD regardless of the severity of their condition. Examples recommended by the American Lung Association include stretching and gentle aerobic exercise such as walking, but any activity that expends enough energy can produce the same benefits, whether it be gardening, doing laundry, or playing a sport. These benefits include:

  • Reduced anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improvements in the body’s use of oxygen
  • Increased cardiovascular fitness
  • Less shortness of breath
  • Improved muscle strength

There is also a significant association between pain reduction and increased exercise capacity in people with COPD. A recent study published in BMC Pulmonary Medicine found that pain levels were decreased with the physical activity intervention compared with usual care, meaning that physical activity will not only reduce the severity of symptoms, it will also help manage pain levels. It was also revealed that traditional pulmonary rehabilitation programs do not tend to help pain levels, suggesting that physical activity is more effective as a treatment.

At KiActiv® we support many individuals with COPD to find the best way to include regular physical activity into their routine in the context of their personal health and lifestyle. It is important to be able to manage symptoms at home and generally live your best life, rather than avoiding activities that you love. Physical activity is a great way to do this, providing various health benefits in an accessible way!

The KiActiv® Team