Living an active life with COPD

Keeping active when you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be challenging as breathing takes much more energy and effort than normal. This factsheet is designed for people with COPD and their families and carers. It explains why activity is affected by your illness, why keeping active is important, and how to live an active life with COPD.

Last Update 10/06/2021
This content is available in multiple languages.

What is COPD?

Common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Chronic cough
  • Tight chest
  • Wheeze

Why is activity important?

  • Exercise helps everybody stay fit and healthy
  • If a person is fit, breathing is easier and returns to normal more quickly after exercise
  • The fitter you are, the easier you will find daily activities despite your breathing difficulties
  • Keeping fit and active will help you to stay healthy in the future.

How does COPD affect me?

What can I do about it?

Keeping active according to your level of breathlessness

When you have COPD, it is quite normal to get breathless during physical activity. The trick is to learn how to take control of your breathlessness. If you are regularly short of breath, ask your doctor to find out why this is happening. The following tips may help people with COPD to deal with breathlessness during physical activity:

Not troubled by breathlessness except on strenuous exercise

How to keep active

  • Stick to a regular activity plan including 30 minutes of moderate exercise on at least 5 days per week (e.g. brisk walking)
  • Allow enough time to recover after exercise
Short of breath when hurrying or walking up a slight hill

How to keep active

  • Plan activities in advance so you don’t have to rush too much
  • If you are short of time, do not panic as this makes breathlessness worse. Keep going steadily, as best you can
  • Consider using your reliever inhaler that is provided by your doctor when you experience symptoms
  • Consider using your reliever inhaler that is provided by your doctor when you experience symptoms, however, do not overuse it.
Walk slower than companions on flat ground because of breathlessness, or have to stop for breath when walking at own pace

How to keep active

  • It is okay to be out of breath. Moderate breathlessness is completely safe and just means you are taking good exercise
  • Take slow deep breaths rather than fast shallow breaths
  • Take a rest if you need to and consider taking your reliever inhaler
Stop for breath after about 100 metres or after a few minutes walking on flat ground

How to keep active

  • Include lots of rests in your activity
  • Reach your goal in your own time
  • It is okay to feel out of breath
  • Consult with an expert in COPD and exercise (e.g. a physiotherapist) to see what exercises you can still do to maintain your physical condition


Too breathless to leave the house, or breathless when dressing or undressing

How to keep active

  • Tackle one thing at a time
  • Feeling breathless is scary but it is not harmful. Your breathing should return to normal after a few minutes of
  • Use distractions to take your mind off your breathing for 2 minutes until you get your breath back
  • Continue with simple daily activities as much as possible

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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