Exercise for patients with COPD: an integral yet underutilized intervention

Phys Sportsmed. 2013 Feb;41(1):49-57. doi: 10.3810/psm.2013.02.1999.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the third leading cause of mortality in the United States in 2009 and accounts for millions of dollars in health care expenses annually. It is characterized by slow declines in functional ability and exercise tolerance, which are strongly predictive of poor health-related quality of life and survival. The cycle of physical, social, and psychosocial consequences of COPD is more easily prevented than remedied; therefore, maintaining baseline respiratory function is a key goal of early treatment. Although medical management of COPD is generally well understood and implemented by most primary care physicians, multidisciplinary approaches that include nonpharmacologic modalities (eg, exercise training) are not often used. Exercise training can alleviate dyspnea and improve exercise tolerance and health-related quality of life in patients with mild-to-severe COPD. Pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes exercise training, nutritional and psychological counseling, and patient education, is an important component of COPD treatment and management programs, and is currently underutilized in the United States. This article addresses the role of exercise as part of a multidisciplinary approach to the management of COPD, especially with regard to pulmonary rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / rehabilitation*
  • Quality of Life