Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the name given to a group of conditions that cause problems with the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, persistent wheezing and frequent chest infections. In 2021/22, 1.8% of Leicestershire's population had COPD, with there being 1730 emergency hospital admissions for COPD in 2019/20 in over 35-year-olds. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also incidences of Long COVID. As of March 2023, the UK had an estimated 1.9 million people (2.9% of the population) who self-reported as suffering from Long COVID. With a population of around 722,000, this equates to 20,938 people in Leicestershire with Long COVID. The most common Long COVID symptom was reported to to be fatigue (72% of those with self-reported Long COVID), followed by difficulty concentrating (51%), muscle ache (49%), and shortness of breath (48%).

Being active with COPD can be extremely beneficial, with exercise reducing the symptoms of dyspnoea (shortness of breath and uncomfortable breathing) and reducing fatigue. Physical activity can help with overall fitness, reduce anxiety and depression and improve overall quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions - Healthy Lungs

Can I be active with COPD?

The short answer is yes, as long as you exercise at the right level for you. Exercise can improve your breathing, and it is important to not avoid exercise that makes you breathless, as this could result in you being less fit and becoming out of breath more easily.

How can physical activity help?

Physical activity increases the strength of your muscles, including the muscles around your lungs which will help you to breath better while moving around. Physical activity can also help to:

  • Improve your immune system, which will benefit you during cold and flu season
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Lower stress levels, while reducing anxiety and depression
  • Improve quality of sleep

Getting active with COPD: Where to start?

If you are worried about beginning exercise, talk to a healthcare professional to get some advice on the best place to start. When you begin exercising, it is important to go slowly and gradually build yourself up. Set yourself realistic goals and do not overdo it.

Some suitable physical activity suggestions for those living with COPD:

There are a number of options that you could consider when exercising with COPD. Stretching is a gentle way to add physical activity to your daily routine, and can be used to warm up and cool down if doing more intense exercise. Aerobic exercises such as walking, cycling or swimming should be included in your physical activity routine a few times each week. Resistance training or strength training should be undertaken 3 or 4 times a week to help improve muscular strength.

When to avoid exercising with COPD:

Physical activity is safe, even when you have symptoms of long-term conditions, such as COPD. Regular physical activity, in combination with your medical care, is important in the management long-term conditions. However, if you experience a dramatic increase in breathlessness, new or worsening chest pain, a sudden onset of rapid palpitations or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, or sudden change in vision, it is important to stop and seek medical advice.

If you have a temperature or infection, feel sick, have chest pain, have increased shortness of breath or other COPD symptoms, feel weak or dizzy, it would be best to avoid exercising. If you are on supplementary oxygen, it is important to consider whether you have enough oxygen. If the answer is no, then physical activity would not be a good idea.

Symptom specific advice:

Exercise can help improve your overall quality of life, as well as the symptoms you may be experiencing with your COPD. It is important not to push yourself too far whilst exercising. You might want to speak to your GP before you begin exercising, as they may advise that you take part in a pulmonary rehabilitation programme which will be more structured to your needs.

Krisina's Story

"Knowing running is helping me do something for my condition makes me really happy." - Krisina

Visit We Are Undefeatable for more information and inspiration on getting active.

Get Active

If you are  ready to move more and feel better, there are a range of activities and sessions to help you meet your activity goal. Be sure to find something you enjoy!

Resources for COPD

You are performing the exercises linked from our website at your own risk.

Whilst every effort has been made to verify the information on the respiratory conditions pages, Active Together is not responsible for the accuracy or content of external websites. Whilst taking part in physical activity, participants should ensure they take part at a level which is appropriate to them and their health and are responsible for ensuring they check the credentials and health and safety requirements for each activity. It is recommended that participants follow the Chief Medical Officers Guidelines for physical activity. Participants will choose to utilise these links and take part in activities at their own risk.

For Healthcare Professionals

It is important to have conversations with those living with COPD about the importance of physical activity. Physical activity as a prevention and treatment for long-term health conditions is a consensus backed by rigorous evidence.

Our Active Medicine page supports local healthcare professionals with promoting the benefits of physical activity, including Physical Activity and Health training, E-Learning resources, and healthy conversation skills.

The fantastic Moving Medicine resource hosts step-by-step guides to have quality conversations with patients about physical activity for COPD - from 1 - 5 minute conversation opportunities.