COPD: Adapted sports and exercises to combat the disease

Published Oct 13, 2022 • By Rahul Roy

An individual suffering from COPD might find it difficult to manage an active lifestyle, but sports and exercise plays an important role in the positive health and mind of a person. 
But what is COPD? How does it occur? What physical activities can we practice to help with COPD? 
Find out in this article! 

COPD: Adapted sports and exercises to combat the disease

Exercise might seem like the last option for a person suffering from COPD, but regular physical activity goes a long way in strengthening the respiratory system and easing that wheezing. 

But before we can dive into the activities that help us breathe better, it is important to first understand what COPD is and how it is contracted by an individual. 

What is COPD? 

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a common progressive lung disease that affects an individual's ability to breathe properly. According to the WHO, it is the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide. It is estimated that more than 16 million or roughly 6.6% of American adults are suffering from some form of COPD.

There are primarily 2 types of COPD- 

a. Chronic Bronchitis– This is caused due to inflammation of the bronchial tubes- which carry air to and from the lungs. It is commonly seen in smokers and affected people tend to be more susceptible to lung infections. It is characterized by abnormal mucus production and crusty cough over a long period of time.

b. Emphysema – Unlike chronic bronchitis, emphysema is caused due to damage to the bronchial tubes, whereby small air spaces turn into large air spaces, reducing the overall area of the lungs, meaning that there is a reduced amount of oxygen entering the bloodstream. Smokers are the most common culprits again although age and genetics does play a factor as well. 

What physical activities can we practice to help with COPD? 

Exercise cannot reverse the damage of COPD but it can help a COPD afflicted individual to build up physical strength to engage in demanding activities without the immediate urge to run out of breath. 

Obviously the best course of action would be to stop smoking or stop being exposed to fumes but exercise can slow that erosion. 
So lets take a look at some physical activities that can benefit COPD patients- 


This is a pretty obvious choice, but walking is a very easy to do physical activity that does not really strain an individual either. It is a great way to start off a routine and even a slow pace can do a person real good. Walking can also be done anywhere- parks, gyms, malls etc. This helps improve the breathing of a person as there is improved circulation and better utilization of oxygen. Not to mention, the physical fitness levels that will greatly improve as a result. 


Swimming is a great form of cardio that is beneficial to the joints as well. Breathing is very important when it comes to swimming and it is a good way to build up lung capacity and breath endurance. It is recommended to start slow, firstly getting comfortable in the water and then practicing holding the breath underwater a couple of times until the person is ready to swim. Swimming is claimed to reduce the symptoms of asthma and even improve the core strength of an individual. 


Cycling is a good way to build up stamina and strength. It is recommended to start slow and practice on an incline before slowly progressing towards tougher courses. If buying a cycle seems expensive, then there are numerous services available that allow to rent bicycles at fairly affordable prices. It is an activity that can be done in the too if an individual doesgym n’t feel like going outside. It improves cardiovascular fitness improving the oxygen retention and contributes to losing weight as well! 


Dancing may not be considered a sport, but it is a great physical activity to get the body moving. It is a fun exercise that improves the functional lung capacity and has been proven to provide wide psychosocial benefits. Enrolling for COPD group dance classes is a great way to meet other similar individuals and learn a new skill in the process as well. The best part is that the person is free to choose the type of dance form he would like to practice! 


Yoga is an excellent way to improve breathing and many COPD patients swear by its usefulness. It is a low impact activity that positively impacts an individual physically and emotionally. It mainly consists of 2 parts- the asanas (physical movements) and pranayamas (breathing techniques). Meditation and mindfulness is an essential part of yoga and the breathing techniques help to maximize the utilization of the lungs, strengthening their endurance. 

Jump Rope

A great way to do cardio, jump rope has been proven to have numerous health benefits-especially relating to losing weight, building stamina, and of course strengthening the heart and lungs. Like with any physical activity, COPD patients must begin the activity slowly, starting with a couple of jumps until they slowly build up endurance. It is a quick way to work up the lungs and although it may be hard at first, it’s benefits to the respiratory system shouldn’t be overlooked. 


Like Yoga, Pilates is a low impact exercise that focuses on strengthening the core, improving breathing and freeing up the movement of limbs. Breathing is a point of focus and that is used to chanel the body to better use oxygen. There is emphasis on building energy levels so as to be able to do more without running out of breath. 

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a calm and flowing type of exercise that was popularized in China. The activity emphasizes movement of upper and lower body parts in a smooth transition, and controlled awareness of breathing. The rhythmic breathing helps improve the oxygen intake and helps in the development of the cardiovascular respiratory function. It also preaches meditation that helps better manage stress

Speak to your doctor before engaging in any of these activities as it is important for the doctors to gauge your physical and mental COPD health to see if it is a feasible option. It is always better to exercise in a group or with another person so that there would be help if required. Obviously straining oneself unnecessarily will bring more harm than good and its is important to set realistic targets and work gradually to achieve them. 

The first step is always the hardest but the secret to getting ahead is getting started. So, take the initiative to look after your body, and your body will look after you. 


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Take care of yourself! 



COPD - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic.com
Physical Activity and COPD | American Lung Association.com
10 Smart Exercises for People With COPD (webmd.com)
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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - French (healthinfotranslations.org)
[Recommendations for sports in chronic obstructive pneumopathy (COPD)] - PubMed (nih.gov)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) | CDC.com
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (who.int)
Support for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - House of Commons Library (parliament.uk)
Chronic Bronchitis | Johns Hopkins Medicine.com
Emphysema - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic.com
The best calisthenics workout plan for all fitness levels (medicalnewstoday.com)
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Meet the COPD Athlete: Never Let Your Disease Define You (inofab.health.com)
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How Cycling Affects Your Lungs - Cycle Savvy | The Cycleplan Blog.com
5 Reasons Why Swimming is Great for Lung Health | U.S. Masters Swimming (usms.org)
Dance as a rehabilitative strategy for patients with COPD | European Respiratory Society (ersjournals.com)
Yoga for COPD: Benefits, Techniques, and More (healthline.com)
Your Guide To The Best Exercises For Lungs | Decathlon.com
Pilates for COPD – The Pilates Edge (pilates-edge.com)
Tai chi: Promising for COPD - Harvard Health.com

avatar Rahul Roy

Author: Rahul Roy, Health Writer

Rahul is a content creator at Carenity, specialised in health writing. Rahul is pursuing his masters in management from EDHEC Business School and in his spare time loves to play football and listen to music.

>> Learn more

Who reviewed it: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialzes in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sports. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


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