The Effects of Exercise on COPD

The value of regular exercise is well known for healthy individuals.  Over the past several decades researchers have been evaluating the benefits of exercise on various disease states and quality of life.

COPD Exercise
A Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator at Lambeth and Southwark provides exercise training to a COPD patient who has helped design the program as part of the BreathEasy group and Pursuing Perfection

The incidence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is presently

increasing in the U.S., with an estimated 16.5 million people suffering from shortness of breath and disabling effects of the disease. COPD is characterized by airflow obstruction that reduces the ability to sufficiently empty the lungs.  (American Thoracic Society)  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends exercise training as a major component of pulmonary rehabilitation programs to improve physical capacity and quality of life for patients suffering from COPD.  Specific exercise prescription guidelines recommended by ACSM include:

Type of Exercise:  Intermittent exercise using short intervals with regular rest periods, allowing for higher intensity exercise efforts minimizing fatigue.

Duration of Exercise:  30 – 40 minutes duration after initial weeks of training at low levels.

Frequency of Exercise:  3 days per week, progressing to 4 days per week.

Chavannes, N.H. et al, 2002, performed a literature review for exercise prescription guidelines in COPD patients and determined walking, cycling and swimming to be specific activities for patients with COPD.

Researchers recommend slow progression of intensity, duration and frequency of exercise for patients with COPD.  Additionally, strength training is highly recommended to maintain muscle strength and quality of life.  There are various recommendations for exercise prescriptions using both upper body and lower body strength training exercises, mainly performing exercises using the major muscle groups improving overall functional capacity.

While Chavannes, N.H. et al, 2002 did not conclude a reduction in hospital visits or prednisone use, Bartolome R.C., and colleagues, 2013 found a reduction in symptoms, optimized functional status, increased participation and a reduction in health care costs by stabilizing or reversing systemic manifestations of disease in 80 moderate to severe COPD patients.

Historically, pulmonary rehabilitation programs have been conducted in settings where a clinical team was present for guidance and training supervision.  As healthcare becomes more and more decentralized and transitions to homecare, the question remains whether pulmonary rehabilitation exercises are safe to perform in the home under minimal supervision?


  1. Dressendorfer, R.H., Haykowsky, M.J., and Eves, N.  ACSM, Current Comment, “Exercise for Persons with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease”.
  2. Chavannes, N.H., Vollenberg, J.J.H., Schayck van C.P. and Wouters, E.F.M., “Effects of physical activity in mild to moderated COPD:  a systematic review.”  Brit J Gen Prac.  2002, 52, 000-000.
  3. Bartolome, R.C., Stoller, J.K.  and Hollingsowrth, H.  “Pulmonary rehabilitation in COPD.”  Wolters Kluwer Health Clinical Solutions.  2013, Oct.
Christie Rose MS, MBA
Christie Rose MS, MBA


Christie Rose is a Orange County based Marketing Professional with 10 years of Product Management experience in the medical device industry and an additional 10 years of clinical research with UC Irvine.  Christie has contributed to many research articles in the field of exercise physiology



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