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The Benefits of Walking for People With COPD

Strengths Muscles, Builds Endurance, Improves Self-Esteem

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Updated August 07, 2009

For patients with COPD who expend extra energy just to breathe, walking regularly can improve the body's ability to utilize oxygen. Walking, a low-impact exercise, places minimum stress on the joints and is generally an easy exercise for COPD patients to perform.

Walking helps build your endurance, reconditions and strengthens your muscles, improves your well-being and allows you to become more self-sufficient. As you build endurance, breathing at rest or during activity will become easier, and you"ll increase your exercise tolerance.

The following details the benefits of a regular walking program:

Weight Control

Most of us start an exercise program with the intention of losing weight. If you are overweight and have COPD, you have a two-fold problem -- the extra weight tends to make it even more difficult than normal to breathe, which makes it much harder to exercise. Losing weight will help you improve your breathing at rest and during activity.

Successful weight loss will also reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.

Improves Blood Pressure

Many times people with COPD have coexisting problems, such as high blood pressure (hypertension). According to a study published in 2000 by the British Journal of General Practice, taking daily, brisk walks may help modestly lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension, although doing so will not likely replace the need to take medication.

To manage your hypertension and get the most out of your exercise program, current guidelines suggest regular, aerobic exercise prior to, and in conjunction with, prescribed medications. Additionally, a moderately intense exercise program of aerobic exercise should be performed for at least 30 minutes, five or more days each week.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

We can all attest to having too much stress in our lives, whether it is from the demands of our job or from that of raising a family. When we become "stressed out", our bodies react by releasing stress chemicals, such as epinephrine, nor-epinephrine and cortisol, into our blood. This is normal, and part of the "fight or flight" response that is innate within us. Cumulative effects of these chemicals, however, are dangerous, causing long-term health effects such as high blood pressure and other diseases.

Walking can reduce stress by helping our bodies metabolize these stress chemicals. Exercise also causes our body to release endorphins, which are natural stress busters that also help relieve pain.

Improves Cardio-Respiratory Fitness

Cardio-respiratory fitness refers to the ability to be able to sustain rhythmic activity over a prolonged period of time. Aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling can help improve your cardio-respiratory fitness level by strengthening large muscle groups within your body. Although exercise does not directly improve lung function, it can help strengthen your muscles which will help build your endurance level. This will ultimately raise your exercise tolerance and help you to breathe easier during activity in the long run.

Decreases Depression

COPD can make even the simplest task tough to accomplish without becoming short of breath, so it's not difficult to understand why people who suffer from the disease often fall prey to depression. Exercise helps fight this, as the endorphins that are released when you are active have a wonderful calming effect on the body. You may have heard this benefit referred to as "runner's high." This, plus the raised level of self-esteem that can come from improving your body and feeling better, can also help combat depression.

Improves Cognitive Function

A study performed by Duke University and published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal of Aging and Physical Activity suggested that aerobic exercise improves cognitive functioning in older adults, particularly in the areas of memory, planning and organization. Significant improvement was also noted in the ability of study participants to "multi-task" or juggle a variety of intellectual tasks at the same time.

The study concluded that exercise may be able to offset, at least in part, the decline in mental status that is often associated with aging.

Improves Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common, and oftentimes most disabling, of all the joint disorders. OA affects joint cartilage and the bone that supports it. This results in degradation and inflammation of the joints that causes pain and stiffness.

Walking can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis by strengthening the muscles that surround the joints, subsequently reducing pain and stiffness. It also helps increase flexibility and endurance.

Helps Those Trying to Quit Smoking

If you have COPD, you may be trying to quit smoking. Walking may help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with withdrawal from nicotine. It can also help offset weight gain that commonly occurs as a result of an increased appetite. Walking can serve as a wonderful distraction to help you fight nicotine cravings, and should be a part of any quit smoking program.

Time to Get Started

I could elaborate forever on the benefits of walking, but this would probably keep you from actually doing it. Begin your walking program today by starting out slow and easy. If you cannot walk for a full 20 to 30 minutes, 4 to 5 days a week, start by walking 5 minutes, 4 to 5 times per day. If you get short of breath, stop and rest for a moment until you can resume walking. The goal is to improve you fitness level so that normal activity is no longer a chore.

Be sure to check with your doctor prior to starting any exercise program.

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Sources:

Arthritis Foundation "Osteoarthritis."http://www.arthritis.org/disease-center.php?disease_id=32. Updated 2007.

Cooper, A.R., Moore, L.A.R., McKenna, J. & Riddoch, C.J. The British Journal of General Practice."What is the magnitude of blood pressure response to a programme of moderate intensity exercise? Randomised controlled trial among sedentary adults with unmedicated hypertension". December, 2000.

Journal of Aging and Physical Activity "Effects of Exercise Training on Cognitive Functioning Among Depressed Older Men and Women" 9(1)January, 2001.

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