Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing. It’s typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD makes it harder to breathe. Symptoms may be mild at first, beginning with intermittent coughing and shortness of breath. As it progresses, symptoms can become more constant to where it can become increasingly difficult to breathe.

You may experience wheezing and tightness in the chest or have excess sputum production. Some people with COPD have acute exacerbations, which are flare-ups of severe symptoms.

Early symptoms

At first, symptoms of COPD can be quite mild. You might mistake them for a cold.

Early symptoms include:

  • occasional shortness of breath, especially after exercise
  • mild but recurrent cough
  • needing to clear your throat often, especially first thing in the morning

You might start making subtle changes, such as avoiding stairs and skipping physical activities.

Worsening symptoms

Symptoms can get progressively worse and harder to ignore. As the lungs become more damaged, you may experience:

  • shortness of breath, after even mild forms of exercise like walking up a flight of stairs
  • wheezing, which is a type of higher-pitched noisy breathing, especially during exhalations
  • chest tightness
  • chronic cough, with or without mucus
  • need to clear mucus from your lungs every day
  • frequent colds, flu, or other respiratory infections
  • lack of energy

In later stages of COPD, symptoms may also include:

  • fatigue
  • swelling of the feet, ankles, or legs
  • weight loss

Symptoms are likely to be much worse if you currently smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.


Breathing difficulties can make people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) feel they can’t exercise. But your doctor may encourage physical activity, as it can improve shortness of breath and other COPD symptoms.

Inactivity, on the other hand, can cause a decline in cardiovascular function and muscle mass. Over time, you may find yourself more and more breathless every time you exert yourself.

As a result, ordinary tasks like cleaning the house or playing with kids may trigger coughing and wheezing. This can affect your quality of life, causing increasingly sedentary behaviour, loss of independence, and even depression.

How exercise helps manage symptoms of COPD

Exercise can’t reverse lung damage, but it can improve your physical endurance and strengthen your respiratory muscles. This can help you feel better physically and mentally, and you’ll be able to participate in more activities without losing your breath or getting tired.

It takes time to build up cardiovascular endurance and to strengthen your respiratory muscles. It’s important to be consistent and establish a regular exercise routine.

Some people make the mistake of stopping their workouts once they’re breathing better. If you revert to inactivity, shortness of breath will likely return.

Best exercises for COPD

Before starting any new type of exercise, make sure you check with your doctor. If you have moderate to severe COPD, your doctor may first refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Also, if you use oxygen, your doctor may offer instructions on how to increase your oxygen flow rate during workouts to ensure your body receives enough oxygen.

Before kicking off an exercise program, it’s helpful to practice breathing exercises for people living with COPD. Done regularly, these can help make physical exertion easier and more comfortable.

Next, choose a couple of types of exercise or activities that you truly enjoy. Find a workout partner to meet up with regularly. This will make a big difference in your ability to stick with it.

Good choices for people with COPD include aerobic or cardiovascular exercises as well as upper-body resistance or weight training to help strengthen the heart, lungs, and surrounding respiratory muscles.

The following are eight types of exercise that are good options for people with COPD:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • jumping rope
  • bicycling
  • skating
  • low-impact aerobics
  • swimming
  • resistance training (with hand weights or bands)

Always warm up and stretch before exercising and cool down afterwards. This reduces stress on your heart, muscles, and joints.

Start off slow and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. You might begin with a goal of working up to 30 minutes, four times a week.


At PCA, our physiotherapists can evaluate you or your loved one to determine what program is right for you.

You can contact us at


+234 907 301 6018

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