Harvard Women's Health Watch

The case for exercise in managing chronic lung disease

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you might think you can't — or shouldn't — exercise. But you really must.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. More than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, most of them current or former smokers. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States: each year, roughly 120,000 people — more women than men — succumb to it. But people often live with COPD for many years, and it takes a major part of its toll by sapping the strength and stamina needed for work, social activities, and leisure-time pursuits.

There's a common belief that little can be done for COPD beyond providing medications and oxygen. Even some clinicians aren't completely up to date on the evidence supporting other therapies, including exercise. People with COPD may benefit even more than average from regular exercise. It can promote better oxygen utilization, improve energy and endurance, protect bone, lower blood pressure, help control weight, and improve mood and sleep. Such changes can add up to a better quality of life, less shortness of breath, and fewer doctor visits and hospitalizations.

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