Exercising with COPD and Asthma

Have you been diagnosed with a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)? Do you have asthma? Are you thinking about starting to exercise but not sure if this will help or hinder? Read on, this blog hopes to help answer some questions you may have.


We all know exercise has many benefits and if it were a drug prescribed on the NHS we would all be taking it. I came across this tweet the other day and it is brilliant, it looks at exercise as if it were a drug.


Tweet showing describing exercise as a medical drug


We all know the benefits of exercise to a ‘healthy’ person, yet know very little about what to do if we have a ‘disease’. The health benefits are the same, we just have to be a bit more cautious and take smaller steps. Many top sports men and women compete with asthma, as long as you look after your COPD/asthma well, have medication with you, you can enjoy any form of exercise.


Always check with a doctor or healthcare provider before starting an exercise plan if you have asthma or COPD.


What are the benefits of exercise?

Improved blood pressure

Improved sleep

Strengthen the heart and lungs – they become better at utilising oxygen, exercise improves your tolerance, improving your quality of life

Improved muscle tone and strength – great for osteoporosis

Increased energy levels

Boost your immune system

Asthma sufferers who regularly exercise have less asthma attacks, use less medication and have less days off work


What activities can you do?

Fitness is broken down into ten different components. Have a look at the following and see if you can identify any of these which your asthma/COPD would impact on?












As you can see there are 8/10 components of fitness you can work on without worrying too much about your asthma or COPD.


Refamiliarise yourself with how much exercise you should be doing read this blog.


The exercise you choose must be individualised to you and progressive – choose activities you enjoy



Session Structure

Warm Up – this should be a gradual increase in intensity. Slowly increase your pace and/or level. The warm up is used to slowly raise your heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature, preparing you for the session ahead.


Main session – still monitoring you heart rate or rate of perceived exertion. The main session will cover various components of fitness: these could be strength, balance, agility and endurance.

To get the most out of the time you are committing to exercise, a combination of aerobic and strength training is best. A combination of these two help combat and prevent many diseases. This does not mean you have to start full throttle. Start slowly and build up, with strength training find a weight you can manage 12-15 repetitions with, then complete 1-3 sets. Cardiovascular training could be walking for 1-2 minutes, resting and then repeating. Fitness is not about others, it is about you and your current level. As the weeks go on you will try and increase the weights you are lifting and time you are walking for.

Cool Down – spend several minutes bringing your heart rate and breathing rate back down to near resting levels. This can be done on an exercise bike or walking around – avoid just stopping and sitting still.

If you suffer from COPD, mid to later morning is usually the best time to exercise, as your breathing can be worse once you have woken up.  Avoid exercising in extreme temperature and humidity.

If you suffer from exercise induced asthma you should be cautious of cold and dry days, respiratory infections, pollutants/pollen in the air and continuous high intensity activities.


Core and Breathing

One of the biggest things to remember when training is to breathe. On certain exercises it is useful to hold your breath as this increases our intra-abdominal pressure. On all exercises we want to remember to breathe. Before worrying about breathing practice engaging your core and breathing.


Try this: pull your belly button in towards your spine, hold this here and breathe normally. This is how you want to be when exercising, engage your core then breathe. Set yourself up on the bit of equipment you are using, engage the core and take a deep breath in. Now, lift the weight, as you lift the weight, let the air out of your lungs slowly. When returning the weight back to the start position, breathe in. All the time keeping your core engaged.  Keep this breathing pattern going until all your repetitions are complete.



The intensity of the session is how hard you are working. You can use your heart rate to tell you that, but as you may be on medication that affects this – giving a false reading. Other ways you can check are using the rate of perceived exertion scale and the talk test.

Rate of Perceived Exertion – the Bjorg Scale (1-20) and the Modified Bjorg Scale (1-10) look at a rate of perceived exertion. Depending on the scale you are using you give a score between 1-10 or 1-20. This then correlates to how hard you are working. For both Asthma and COPD you want to be working at 11-13/20.

Talk Test – is a valid and reliable test for prescribing and monitoring the intensity of an exercise.  If you are exercising too high, you will only be able to say a few words. If the intensity is too low, the number of sentences spoken is too comfortable. The appropriate intensity would you reach mild breathlessness after a few sentences.



If you are unsure where to start, contact your local GP and ask if they know of any exercise referral schemes in your area. A GP exercise referral scheme is where the health care professionals refer a patient to a qualified exercise specialist. The specialist then delivers a 12 week tailored program for the patient at a reduced cost.


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