5 exercise tips for people with emphysema

Regular exercise makes all the difference to the health of emphysema sufferers. Get started with these tips.

19 January 2015
by Karen Nel

1. Start slowly

Certain principles apply across the board when starting an exercise programme, irrespective of your health complications, says Cape Town biokineticist Jacques du Toit. “Always start an exercise programme by using the progressive load principle. This means that you start slowly and gradually increase either duration or intensity. Avoid increasing both at the same time,” he says. The intensity and duration of the exercise are determined on an individual basis, so it is important to constantly be on the lookout for any signs of shortness of breath.

2. Focus on your lower limbs during cardio

Cardiovascular exercise helps to increase the lung capacity of those suffering from emphysema. “Cardio training should focus on the lower extremities and include modes such as walking, stationary cycling and walking up stairs. Aim to do this for about 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times a week,” says Du Toit.

3. Target large muscle groups during strength training

The aim of strength training is to improve the quality of your life, by strengthening the muscles that you use on a daily basis. The stronger your muscles are, the less effort daily tasks will require. Focus on large muscle groups (eg. hamstrings, quadriceps and back muscles) and start with at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions. Additional sets and exercises can be added as your capacity improves. “Start with machine-type exercises, as they require less strength training experience and pose lower risks of injury,” advises Du Toit

4. Steer clear of blood pressure elevators

Avoid exercises that require you to get up from a sitting or lying down position, as well as exercises that take place above the height of your head. “The reason for this is that these exercises increase your blood pressure and can lead to shortness of breath,” says Du Toit. Also avoid any type of exercise that requires you to hold your breath during the effort part of exercise. “If you have emphysema you should focus on breathing out during the effort part of the exercise,” adds Du Toit.

5. Exercise regularly

Getting 30 minutes of exercise on most, if not all, days will improve the quality of life of those suffering from emphysema. “It has been reported that following a structured programme for six weeks can improve functional lung capacity by as much as 70 to 80 percent,” concludes Du Toit.