Today, Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, EdgecliffMarrickvilleBella VistaRandwick, PymbleBalmain, Neutral Bay, Coburg – Melbourne, and Barrie, Ontario – Canada  discuss COPD and how exercise can help.


What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that results in obstructed airflow, from an inflammatory response in the lungs that is not completely reversible (Morris et al, 2021). This results in significant reductions to functional capacity and health related quality of life (Morris et al, 2021). The changes to the airway obstruct airflow and reduce the area available for gas exchange (Morris et al, 2021). It currently affects over one in four Australians over the age of 75 and is a leading contributor to death and disability worldwide (Morris et al, 2021). The main cause of COPD is environmental exposure, primarily cigarette smoke (Morris et al, 2021).


“Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that results in obstructed airflow, from an inflammatory response in the lungs that is not completely reversible.”

(Morris et al, 2021)


The main symptoms of COPD include dyspnoea or breathlessness, particularly on exertion, chronic coughing and excessive sputum production (Morris et al, 2021). Other non-pulmonary symptoms can include muscle wastage and anaemia (Morris et al, 2021). While there is no cure for COPD, there are huge amounts of evidence supporting multidisciplinary management (Morris et al, 2021).



How can exercise help COPD patients?

Exercise is recognised as the best way to improve muscle function and activity tolerance for those with COPD (Spruit et al, 2016). From as early as the 1950s, it was discovered that common treatment of breathlessness, for example relief with externally delivered oxygen, resulted in a similar physiological response to Olympic athletes following their training program (Spruit et al, 2016). Testing on some patients with dyspnoea on exertion found commencing a structured exercise program led to remarkable improvements in the capacity to exercise without oxygen inhalation (Spruit et al, 2016).  Additionally, physical inactivity is the biggest contribution to de-conditioning, further impairing functional capacity (Spruit et al, 2016).


“Exercise is recognised as the best way to improve muscle function and activity tolerance for those with COPD.”

(Spruit et al, 2016)


Another study that looked at long-term outcomes for COPD patients following a graded exercise program found numerous positive outcomes a year later, including improvements in daily symptoms, activity tolerance, return to employment and healthcare costs and hospitalisations (Spruit et al, 2016). Maximal capacity and daily physical activity levels have also been shown to improve (Spruit et al, 2016).


What are the exercise guidelines for COPD?

The guidelines recommend commencing a graded, combined exercise program. Aerobic exercise should be completed 3-5 times per week, once or twice per day (Morris et al, 2021). Modalities involving large muscle groups, for example cycling or running, are the most suitable, starting at a light to moderate intensity, and increasing as capacity and tolerance improve (Morris et al, 2021). Sessions should be at least 30-60 minutes, or shorter if performing multiple bouts of exercise per day, with rest as needed (Morris et al, 2021).



Strength training is also recommended 2-3 times per week, with a combination of machine-based, free weights and resistance training (Morris et al, 2021). Lighter intensity is recommended for upper body exercises, while lower body exercises should be more moderate intensity (Morris et al, 2021). Sessions should include 8-10 exercises with 10-15 repetitions (Morris et al, 2021). It is also very important to monitor breathing during strength training, to ensure there is no breath holding (Morris et al, 2021).


Flexibility training is also good to include before and after each session as a warmup and cool down (Morris et al, 2021). Aquatic exercise can also be a good alternative for those who are not contraindicated (Morris et al, 2021).


How can we at Longevity help?

At Longevity Exercise Physiology, we’ll provide you with one-hour, one-on-one sessions to help you meet the exercise guidelines with COPD, in a way that’s tailored to your likes and capacity. As everyone’s body responds differently to exercise, we can work with you to develop the best possible program to help you achieve your goals.



If you are interested in using tailored exercise to help improve your capacity with COPD, give Longevity Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Pymble, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista, and Neutral Bay a call on 1300 964 002 to book in a session today!



Written by Vaishnavi Pasupati



Morris, N., Hill, K., Walsh, J., & Sabapathy, S. (2021). Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) position statement on exercise and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Journal Of Science And Medicine In Sport24(1), 52-59.


Spruit, M., Burtin, C., De Boever, P., Langer, D., Vogiatzis, I., Wouters, E., & Franssen, F. (2016). COPD and exercise: does it make a difference?. Breathe12(2), e38-e49.