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5 Physical Therapy Exercises for COPD Patients

While there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) physical therapy can help ease the symptoms of the disease and improve a COPD patient’s overall health. 

Here are five physical therapy exercises that our physical therapy team at Impact Med Sun City Center recommends for COPD patients.

Exercising with COPD

Before beginning an exercise routine, check with your doctor first. 

Exercise is usually safe for a person with COPD, but they should avoid exercise if they:

  • have chest pain
  • are out of oxygen
  • have an infection or fever
  • are nauseous 

COPD refers to a group of diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis that cause respiratory problems that block airflow. There is no cure for COPD, but it can be treated, and one treatment that can be beneficial to help improve COPD symptoms is physical therapy and exercise. 

Exercise helps encourage blood circulation and helps the heart send oxygen throughout the body. It also helps strengthen respiratory muscles—making breathing easier.

Exercise can improve:

  • anxiety, stress, and depression
  • energy levels
  • the body’s use of oxygen
  • cardiovascular fitness
  • shortness of breath
  • muscle strength

Here are some of our recommendations for COPD-friendly exercises: 


Stretching is a relaxing way to improve flexibility. We recommend dynamic stretching as a great way to warm up before exercise. Static stretching can be used to cool down after exercising. To get the best results, hold a gentle static stretch for 10-30 seconds while slowly breathing. Repeat this a few times. 

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is beneficial for those with COPD because it allows the body to use oxygen more efficiently and is great to strengthen the lungs and the heart. Swimming, walking, and cycling are all great examples of COPD-friendly aerobic exercise. Aim to do aerobic exercise for about half an hour at least five times a week.

Resistance Training

Resistance training strengthens muscles, including the muscles that help with breathing. Resistance bands and weights can be helpful, but bodyweight calisthenics can strengthen the body just as much as using weights. Repeat each exercise no more than ten times and as repetitions get easier, slowly increase the amount of weight. 

A physical therapist from Impact Med Sun City Center can guide a suitable resistance training program for patients with COPD. 

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises for COPD patients can help increase the efficiency of their lungs. These exercises may include:

Pursed Lip Breathing 

Pursed lip breathing encourages a patient to take in fewer breaths and keep their airways open for a longer period. It helps with shortness of breath in COPD patients. 

To try: Breathe in through your nose, then breathe out through pursed lips for twice as long as breathing in. 

Diaphragm Breathing 

Also called belly breathing, this exercise helps with oxygen flow. 

To try: Breathe in through the nose while taking note of how the belly fills with air. Breathe out through the mouth for two to three times as long as breathing in. Relax the neck and shoulders while performing diaphragmatic breathing. 

Combination Breathing and Physical Exercises 

Some exercises combine a focus on breathing with gentle physical activity and can be ideal for people with COPD. These include: 


Yoga focused on gentle low-impact movement and breathing. COPD patients should consult a yoga practitioner to help avoid any poses that may restrict breathing. 

Tai chi

Tai chi is a low-intensity exercise that focuses on constant slow movement and breathing. It is easy on joints and causes minimal stress to muscles. 

Physical Therapy for COPD Patients 

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, our team at Impact Med Sun City Center can create a physical therapy plan to help ease your COPD symptoms, encourage blood and oxygen circulation throughout the body, and improve overall health.

Ready to get started? Call Impact Med Sun City Center today—813-938-5195!