COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a general term for any condition in which increased airway resistance makes it difficult to breathe. The most common conditions that fall under the COPD umbrella are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and the two often co-exist. Both conditions narrow the airway and cause shortness of breath, making breathing a challenge, particularly during physical exertion.


Smoking is the primary cause of COPD, so the vast majority of cases can be prevented simply by choosing not to smoke. As a fitness professional, the very first course of action when working with COPD clients is to encourage them to quit smoking, and refer them to a smoking cessation program if necessary.

Exercise Guidelines for COPD Clients:

  • Clients with COPD should obtain medical clearance before beginning an exercise program.
  • Functional activities such as walking or stair climbing are the recommended forms of exercise for COPD clients.
  • Avoid using the upper body with COPD clients, as this often aggravates shortness of breath.
  • Be aware that duration may need to be very short. Clients should aim to gradually increase to 15 minutes or more of aerobic exercise on at least 3 days per week to achieve respiratory benefits.
  • Include resistance training as well, particularly for the upper body, 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days. The amount of weight used for resistance training exercises should allow for completion of one set of 8-12 repetitions per exercise.
  • Respiratory muscle training should also be included in the client’s program.

Assuming the client is working toward quitting smoking, or already has, adding regular exercise can help to increase functional abilities, improve energy levels, build strength, and uplift mood.