COPD and Exercise: How to Get Started

Posted on November 07, 2018   |   

Caroline Gainer

Caroline Gainer is a COPD patient and State Captain from West Virginia. As an advocate she has participated in research initiatives, advocacy efforts with her local, state, and federal officials, and regularly spreads awareness about COPD through local health fairs. To learn more about the COPD Foundation State Captain program, click here!

What is your connection with COPD? What is your COPD story?

In 2013, I went to my annual physical and was diagnosed with COPD. I had no symptoms at the time, so it came as a surprise to me. In September of 2014, my lung collapsed, and I was hospitalized. After my hospitalization, I was referred to a pulmonologist who formally diagnosed me with severe asthma and emphysema. At that time, I was put on medication to help with my constant coughing, and gaging. I remember having to set my alarm clock an extra 30 minutes earlier to get ready for work because I could not stop coughing and felt that I couldn’t catch my breath. Little activities like getting dressed and walking to the car felt challenging.

How did you get involved with the COPD Foundation?

After my hospitalization and diagnosis, I was feeling down and depressed. I was looking for support and community. My doctor gave me an assignment to look at several websites for COPD and the COPD Foundation was listed on there. Right away, I felt supported from the COPD Foundation community, and appreciated all the education they could provide me post-diagnosis.

What has exercise done for your COPD? How has it helped?

Exercise has helped tremendously with my COPD! Since I have started to bike, I have noticed I have more strength and the ability to lift things that I could not prior to starting a routine. My muscles are much more efficient. My oxygen levels have increased from 96% to 98% and I no longer need to use supplemental oxygen every day. I also feel that my endurance has increased and that I can be active for longer periods of time without getting out of breath.

Did you participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, and if so what was it like?

My pulmonologist did refer me to a pulmonary rehabilitation program, but unfortunately living in a rural area, the nearest program was over an hour drive each way. Due to distance constraints, my doctor and I came up with an active car plan where my doctor provided me with exercises to get started. I also got a home physical therapist, to come to my house and help me with an exercise routine. I would highly recommend this to other individuals who are also unable to get to a pulmonary rehabilitation center. My physical therapist had a background in pulmonary rehabilitation and was able to provide me with the education and support to exercise in a safe and effective way.

What is your typical exercise routine?

I try to walk three days per week for about 30-40 minutes. However, as the seasons change, the cold air can affect my COPD, so during winter, I ride on my stationary bike instead. I would like to emphasize that this plan was done with the guidance and consultation of my doctor and home physical therapist. If you want to start an exercise routine, please talk with your doctor first to do it safely.

For newly diagnosed patients who want to get moving but may feel intimidated, what advice would you have for them to get started?

If you can, participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program! Talk to your doctor and make an exercise plan of action that you feel comfortable with! Don’t be afraid to get started, it will change your life for the better!


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  • Thank you for sharing your story Caroline, it is so wonderful having you in the State Captain Program!
  • Caroline, great post and wonderful advice for everyone! I also feel like exercise has turned the tables in my favor quite a bit. The only thing you didn't mention was your coffee recipe, I guess that is another topic?
    • There are exercises that I do that were not mentioned as well, but I think the subject of the post was how to get started exercising. I just read an article in a health journal that suggested adding cocoa to your coffee.
  • I have often read the motivational posts about exercise on this blog. I have been so much motivated that I ordered ankle weights from Amazon. Started exercises and wham! Had an exacerbation.
    Next time I stopped using the weights, started with walking, motivated by a dear friend who walks 5km each day. First day I just went down and up the stairs. Next day walked 50 metres to the corner of the block. Third day went to the barber shop for a long overdue haircut. Fourth day, got excited, and walked 200m distance. By the time I reached back home, I had an exacerbation.
    Gave that up, and started helping in the kitchen. It kept on building up till it lead to hospitalization with UTI.
    Am now so, that going to the toilet is a part of the exercise for me.
    I guess I should do it gradually, not get excited. Have put all this down, to be a warning to others. Just take it coolly baby.
  • My case was forwarded to a pulmonary rehab clinic by my pulmonologist three years ago. The clinic was 2km away, and I used to drive then. I attended the clinic six days a week for about four months. Then I was informed that I had progressed sufficiently, and signed off.
    The trouble is that I didn't continue with the exercise routine at home.
    • Can you do those exercises at home? If you can then this is probably a good thing to do.
    • 5 years ago I was told 2/3 copd. So I read and Read and found this website and I conversed with the people at COPD foundation , everyone was so informative and helpful thank u too everyone that helped me and shared with me and you all got me away from being worried into EXERCISE. I’m 65 now. And I’m sorry I have not gotten back in 3 years to thank everyone , but I’m thanking you all But to anyone if you can. exercising is my savior.

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Caroline. I can relate to it so much. Each of us has to find the exercises that work and make a difference.
  • Caroline..Thanks for sharing your story. You do great work with your advice and encouragement.