9 Exercises for People With COPD

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Paige Greenfield Fowler on November 16, 2022
  • Mature adult with towel after working out at the gym
    Let's Get Moving!
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to encompass several lung conditions that make it difficult to breathe, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. You may think that because you have COPD, you shouldn't exert yourself. But exercise has many payoffs, such as helping your body use oxygen better. Your doctor or pulmonary rehab team can help you design a workout plan and set goals, such as starting with a few minutes of exercise per day and working up to 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. Once you get the green light, try these aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises that are safe for people with COPD.
  • people weight lifting on yoga ball
    Aerobic Exercise #1: Arms Up
    Sitting in a chair, hold a rolled towel or elastic band on your lap with both hands. Relax your shoulders and keep your back straight. Inhale. Exhaling through pursed lips, lift both arms to shoulder level. At the end of your exhale, inhale and return to starting position. As you continue to practice this exercise, try lifting your arms higher and higher until they're able to go straight overhead.
  • woman-stretching-at-desk
    Aerobic Exercise #2: The Wave
    Sit in a chair. Inhale. As you exhale, lift both arms toward the ceiling. Wave your arms right and left until you're done exhaling. Be careful not to twist your body as you do this. Inhale and return to starting position.
  • active-senior-man-exercising-on-treadmill
    Aerobic Exercise #3: Walking
    If you use a treadmill, be sure you learn how to use it correctly first. Whether you walk indoors or outdoors, choose a place with a flat surface. Start walking at a pace that's comfortable for you, and remember to breathe while you walk. As your endurance improves, your doctor may recommend increasing your speed or adding an incline.
  • Woman working with small weights
    Strength Exercise #1: Bicep Curl
    Stand or sit holding a light weight in each hand. Keeping your arms straight and at your sides with your palms facing forward, inhale. As you exhale, slowly bend your elbows and lift the weights to shoulder level. Inhale while you lower to your starting position. Ask your doctor or pulmonary rehab team how many reps you should perform.
  • Side leg raise
    Strength Exercise #2: Side Lift
    Stand up straight and hold on to the back of a chair with one hand. Inhale. As you exhale, lift one foot to the side. Lift it only a few inches off the ground, and keep your toes pointing forward. Inhale and lower it back to your side. Repeat several times, then do the exercise on the opposite side.
  • Young African American woman doing leg stretch on floor of apartment
    Strength Exercise #3: Leg Raise
    Lie on the floor on your back. Bend one knee and place the sole of the foot flat on the floor. Keep the other leg straight out in front of you. Inhale. As you exhale, lift the straight leg until that knee lines up with your bent one. Inhale as you lower your leg. Repeat several times, then switch legs.
  • Woman overlooking Phoenix from atop Camelback Mountain
    Stretching Exercise #1: Shoulder Roll
    Stand with your hands on your hips or arms by your side—whichever is more comfortable. Relax your shoulders and inhale. As you exhale, slowly roll your shoulders in a circle going forward. At the end of your exhale, return to your starting position. Inhale, and this time, as you exhale, roll your shoulders in a circle going backward.
  • http://content.bettermedicine.com/e6/af3d81413211e198a412313d033e31/file/bronchitis-ss-calf%20stretch.jpg
    Stretching Exercise #2: Calf Stretch
    Facing a wall, gently place the palms of your hands on the wall with elbows slightly bent. Be careful to use the wall only for balance; don't push against it. Step your left foot a foot or two behind you. Keeping your toes pointing forward and your right knee slightly bent, gently lower your back heel toward the floor. You'll feel the stretch in the back of your left calf. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, remember to breathe, and return to starting position. Repeat the stretch with your right leg in back.
  • Quadriceps stretch
    Stretching Exercise #3: Quad Stretch
    Stand with the right side of your body facing a chair, and hold on to the back of the chair with your right hand for balance. Inhale. As you exhale, bend your left knee behind you and reach back to grasp your left ankle with your left hand. Gently pull so your knees line up while keeping your hips facing forward. You'll feel a stretch in your left thigh. As you exhale, lower the foot to the floor. Repeat with the left leg several times, then turn so you're holding onto the chair with your left hand. Repeat the stretch with the right leg.
  • Senior Couple Doing Stretches
    Aim for a More Active Life
    Even if you don't have time for a daily workout, look for opportunities to become more active. For instance, do a few stretches when you get up in the morning or while watching TV. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from store entrances. Rather than sitting in a movie, go to a museum or zoo where you can walk around. Small bouts of activity add up over time!
9 Exercises for People With COPD
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Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.