Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Physical Activity


Exercise is good for everyone, but it is especially important for people with COPD. In fact, it is one of the most powerful tools to manage COPD — second only to quitting smoking. Exercising can help you breathe better and give you more energy. Start by talking to your doctor or other healthcare provider about exercise. Find out if using your bronchodilator inhaler before exercising will help you exercise more easily. Make sure you are familiar with breathing and coughing techniques that can help you as you are exercising.

The Benefits

When every breath is a chore, it may be tempting to take it easy. However, as you become less and less physically active, your muscles (including your heart) become less and less effi cient. They have to
work harder, leaving you more tired and breathless. Regular exercise can help your heart, lungs and muscles work more effi ciently, so you can do more with the same amount of effort. Regular exercise can also help you reach a healthy weight. It strengthens your bones and your body’s ability to fight off infection.

It can increase your energy level, boost your mood and help you maintain or regain your independence. Being as fit as possible can also reduce the chances of your COPD symptoms sending you to the hospital. Exercise does not have to be intimidating. In fact, simple walking is one of the best ways to increase your fitness level. Start slow and gradually do a little more or work a little harder as you become stronger. Make sure you exercise regularly. Remember, any amount of exercise is better than no exercise and small steps are better than no steps.

Before You Start

Get Your Doctor’s Approval

It can be tough to get started when you do not feel well. You may also be anxious about becoming short of breath. Talk to your doctor and COPD team about the type of exercise program that would be best for you and how to use your medications before, during and after exercise. Your doctor may also suggest strategies to help you get started, such as using a walker or referring you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Join a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

A great way to learn how to exercise and find support and encouragement is to join a pulmonary rehabilitation (also called respiratory rehabilitation or rehab) program. Pulmonary rehabilitation is strongly recommended for most people with COPD. It is usually led by a respiratory therapist, a nurse or a cardio-pulmonary physiotherapist.

Rehab will teach you:

  • how to exercise and give you a chance to practice exercising
  • how to manage COPD (nutrition, conserving energy)
  • breathing and coughing techniques

Pulmonary rehabilitation is also a social outlet where people with COPD can share stories and encourage one another. Full-scale pulmonary rehabilitation is usually offered at hospitals or clinics in larger cities. If you live in a smaller centre that does not offer pulmonary rehabilitation classes, try some combining alternatives such as:

  • informal programs offered by smaller hospitals or within your community
  • exercise maintenance programs
  • nutrition classes at your local community centre
  • a mall-walking club
  • an aquafit class

Many people with COPD develop their own selfdirected rehab program. You may need a referral from your doctor to join a pulmonary rehabilitation program. If you and your doctor determine that pulmonary rehabilitation is for you, visit to find one near you.

See our Resource section to download a complete list of exercises.

This page was updated November 2019.
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Page Last Updated: 12/01/2021