Published: Feb 9, 2015
It might be difficult for seniors with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to consider exercising when it feels as though the weight of the world is sitting on their chests, but doing so could help them breathe easier and stay healthier. While this may seem contrary, it actually makes sense when you consider how physical activity affects the body.
Inactivity is tough on the system, weakening muscles, including the heart and lungs. As muscles weaken, it becomes more difficult to move. This is true also with the heart and lungs–the less they are used, the weaker they get, leaving the person feeling tired and short of breath and even less motivated to exercise. Inactivity can therefore increase the number of exacerbations, or COPD flare ups, making the person even sicker.
Physical activity, though, strengthens the heart and lungs, making it easier to breathe, and it can reduce the symptoms of COPD. Studies have shown that patients with COPD who have higher activity levels are 46% less likely to be admitted or readmitted to the hospital for a COPD flare up. This is significant when you consider that being admitted to the hospital for COPD may mark the beginning of the terminal phase of the disease.
Exercise can have side benefits, allowing the older adult to relax more and sleep better as well as reducing blood pressure and stabilizing blood sugar. It can also reduce depression, minimize the side effects of medicines, and reduce the risk of heart disease. All of these benefits can allow the senior to remain independent and mobile, which increases the overall quality of life.
While physical activity can offer a multitude of benefits and increase the quality of life, it is important for older adults with COPD to first consult a medical professional before increasing their activity levels or starting a new exercise program. With some guidance from medical professionals, even those seniors who are on oxygen therapy can begin exercise programs that can help them feel better and breathe easier.
COPD Foundation. (n.d.). COPD Statistics Across America. Retrieved from http://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/COPD-Facts/Statistics.aspx.
COPD International. (March 18, 2011). The importance of exercise for the COPD patient. Retrieved from http://www.copd-international.com/exercise/.
Morgan, M. (2003). Preventing hospital admissions for COPD: Role of physical activity. Thorax, 58(2), 95–96. doi:10.1136/thorax.58.2.95. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1746570/.
Public Health Agency of Canada. (July 10, 2008). I have COPD. Why is it important for me to exercise? Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/crd-mrc/copd_exercise-mpoc_exercice-eng.php.