5 Considerations for Training People with COPD

It is COPD Awareness Month so to raise awareness of how to help clients that are living with this condition I thought we could recap 5 exercise considerations. Exercise can be extremely daunting, challenging and generally scary for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease for many reasons but mostly because you are asking them to put more stress on their cardiorespiratory system which is already working extremely hard.

Just a quick reminder, COPD is an umbrella term for two main conditions which include bronchitis and emphysema. Bronchitis is the inflammation to the bronchi making the airways narrow and reducing the ability of air to travel through. Emphysema is the destruction to the alveoli which are responsible for gaseous exchange. This conditions means getting oxygen IN and carbon dioxide OUT is not efficient and in turn people experience extreme breathlessness. The conditions can vary in their severity of course, so everyone you meet is likely to be different and individualised programmes are therefore essential. To recap this condition and how to prescribe safe exercise in more detail head over here to see our short online seminar.

Now there are many considerations to take when programming exercise for these clients but here are 5 important ones:

Be aware of the temperature and the environment. Cold, hot and even damp weather can affect breathlessness so it’s important to verbally screen your client before every session to see how they are feeling on that particular day. Of course you can’t control the weather outside but you can control the indoor environment you choose to train in; so consider the temperature of the room and the impact that air-conditioning may have on the individual. On average mid to late morning or early afternoons are best times for exercise due to temperature increases.

Focus on time over intensity. It’s going to be most beneficial for someone with COPD to be able to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour at a lower intensity than 20minutes at a high intensity. We are trying to improve their functional fitness for daily life so we need to target aerobic and muscular endurance. Consider how many rest breaks you schedule in to the session and whether a continuous or interval style approach is best. A lot of pulmonary rehab programmes run in the format of circuit training as it allows for the balance of exercise and rest.

Promote good posture and breathing techniques throughout. Improving the strength of postural muscles will aid breathing patterns and developing effective breathing techniques will helps them exercise for longer and potentially control breathlessness.

Remember that using arms and legs simultaneously is a lot more taxing on the body so start with one or the other and slowly build up the intensity of the programme. If your client is struggling more on one day then understanding how to adapt it is essential and removing the arms or legs is the easiest initial step.

Always consider the potential anxiety or stress that the client may feel on the lead up to exercise. Re-assuring them on the fact that they should listen to their body, you will adapt accordingly and everything will be taken at their pace will help plus educating them on the long term benefits of being active will hopefully improve their mind-set overall.

There a various other considerations too but these ones are important. Feel free to share your experiences and considerations when working with this client group over in our Private Facebook Group for fitness professionals working with special population groups.

In my experience those that can find a style of exercise which suits them and they find enjoyable will lead a much better quality of life and maintain independence for longer so it’s so important to encourage people with chronic health conditions to be active regularly and that’s where we come in….

P.S If you would like to learn even more about this condition then check out our online CPD Seminar: COPD & Exercise.

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