COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of progressive lung diseases, the most common being emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
There are several benefits of mind-body exercise for people with chronic conditions, and even more specific exercise can be done if you have a chronic respiratory disease like COPD that are designed to stretch your muscles and open your airways.
In studies done looking at the benefits of yoga and tai chi for COPD patients showed how yoga postures, breathing exercises, and tai chi movements gave COPD patients overall improvement to their quality of life, and physical tests showed that their lung function improved!
Tai chi may be the best exercise for you If yoga feels too hard and meditation feels too easy. Tai chi is a good balance between the two. Studies show that Tai Chi has a number of benefits for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
How can tai chi help with COPD?
Tai chi is a combination of slow flowing movements linked with breathing, and it is an ancient Chinese martial art. This is a great practice for COPD patients in any stage of the disease, because Tai chi exercises can be done standing or sitting.
This is also a great exercise option if you have limited resources, because no special equipment is needed. You just wear loose clothing, you need about a yoga mat's worth of space to preform the movements!
It may seem as if these movements are extremely easy, but the power you generate from the motion of the poses and the connection with your breath cultivates strength. It's great too, because these exercises are low-impact.
Not only does tai chi help strengthen your body, it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
There has been a lifetime of experiments and research that explains how tai chi can help people with medical conditions like heart disease, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. And now it is known that tai chi has significantly improved the quality of life for people with COPD.
It is also very likely that if you decide to join a pulmonary rehabilitation program that tai chi will be an effective part of your program.
Research about tai chi and COPD
Tai chi is commonly known to help many people with certain chronic conditions, and so there were additional studies done that would prove whether or not tai chi could improve the quality of life for people with COPD.
In an experiment, they tracked 120 people with COPD, half of the people were put on a traditional pulmonary rehabilitation program, and the other half were enrolled in a tai chi class.
In conclusion, the group of COPD patients who did tai chi had better scores in a survey about their respiratory health and they also performed better during a respiratory walking test.
Do you want to start doing tai chi?
If you think tai chi sounds interesting, the first step will be to get in contact with your doctor, talk to them about tai chi and whether or not this is a good exercise for you personally. Talking with your health care team is also a great way to learn about tai chi classes in your local area, and they may be able to recommend one.
They can also recommend online classes that would be a good fit for your respiratory level!
Tai chi has become very popular and during the pandemic, online workout courses became much more common, so if you like to exercise in the comfort of your home rather than go to a class, you could find classes to take online. Try searching for “beginner tai chi” or “tai chi basics” or “tai chi for people with respiratory health issues”.
There are usually tai chi classes at your local health club or gym, at community centers, or senior citizen organizations. You can also check your local hospital or healthcare center for a tai chi program.
Yoga can be a great form of exercise if you have COPD because it is low-impact and can help to improve both your mental and physical health.
Yoga stands to benefit your health by:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Increasing relaxation and self-confidence
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Improving fitness
Yoga will help you stay fit, flexible, and relaxed. There are different degrees of yoga classes, and there are specific yoga classes taught for people who are diagnosed with health conditions like COPD.
Yoga is a combination of physical postures and breathing techniques. Meditation and relaxation can be a big part of certain yoga practices as well.
The Physical Yoga Postures
Performing the physical postures of yoga can help improve your body’s ability to perform physical activity and will increase your:
- range of motion
Yoga postures can ultimately improve your energy levels and clear your mind from worry, and they also cultivate strength in your muscles and lungs.
Breathing techniques can help utilize your breath more efficiently and teach you how to use your lungs more fully. Yoga is so great for COPD patients because these breathing exercises as you do the postures encourages your breath work outside of yoga and in your everyday life.
Benefits of Yoga for People with COPD
If you have COPD, taking a regular yoga class could be too much physically, and so modified versions of yoga have been developed so that you are capable of the practice without over-exercising.
Modified yoga classes are created with the health needs of people with COPD in mind and should provide you with a gentle, easy, and effective way to manage your health and emotional well-being.
The gentle stretches help to improve fitness and flexibility, while breathing exercises give you skills to manage any attacks of breathlessness. The techniques you learn should also be easy enough so you can practice at home.
Breathing techniques can help you manage symptoms of breathlessness by strengthening your respiratory muscles even when you are not doing yoga! The benefits of yoga spread into your daily life, and help you breathe better but will also help you manage stress and anxiety.
Yoga teaches you how to indulge in deep relaxation through breathing and meditation techniques. This helps to relieve stress and tension.
Before taking any yoga class, even if it is a class for people with your health condition, always consult your healthcare provider to get clearance before practicing any form of exercise. If your class is a normal yoga class that was not designed for people with COPD, check that your yoga teacher understands your needs as a person with COPD.
The right yoga teacher will show you how to breathe correctly in order to enhance your yoga practice and will give you modifications of poses that you are capable of doing.
You can try some of these yoga postures which can help you build strength and encourage healthy breathing:
Standing Mountain Pose
Stand tall to open up your chest. Your arms can be raised. or left at your sides.
This pose also helps to open up the muscles of your chest but needs to be practiced carefully to avoid muscle strain and breathlessness.
Seated Forward Folds
These poses help strengthen your respiratory system.
Standing Side Bends
These bends will help strengthen your diaphragm while also improving the flexibility of your rib cage.
Breathing correctly brings more oxygen into your blood and cultivates vital energy for your muscles and brain. Good breath helps your mind and body.
Pursed-lip breathing and diaphragm breathing are two of the most common breathing techniques for COPD and both have roots in yoga. They are often taught to people with COPD as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation program.
Exercising safely with COPD
Yoga and Tai Chi are generally safe ways to get in shape, but there are always things to be aware of, and if you have COPD be sure to take these precautions just to be sure.
Ask your doctor before performing any new exercise, they will have advice for practicing your exercise safely and considering your oxygen levels be able to recommend how much exercise you should be getting, so you get enough but also not too much. Your healthcare team may also have yoga classes or tai chi classes for COPD in your area.
Check the credentials of any yoga instructor or tai chi teacher before you begin classes and make sure they know about your condition and health needs before beginning the class.
The best thing about yoga and tai chi, is that you are practicing your own exercise, and there are no expectations to do anything that is uncomfortable or harmful to your body. Therefore, you should avoid any poses that restrict your breathing and put pressure on your diaphragm. Examples of yoga poses you should avoid are Child’s Pose or the Plough.
Yoga and tai chi are exercises meaning your heart rate could increase and your breathing can also speed up. Be prepared for this, and keep your inhalers or portable oxygen device close by when practicing tai chi, yoga, or any form of exercise.
Stop exercising immediately if you experience shortness of breath while exercising, taking breaks and allowing yourself to catch your breath is a helpful tool to use when you are experiencing an exacerbation or flare up. Use your medication and rest until you feel well enough to begin again.
Exercise for COPD Patients
It is way too common for COPD patients to not get enough exercise, and this is because they think that feeling breathless and tired is bad for their lungs, but this is not true. For COPD patients, it is crucial to get some exercise daily. Without exercise you will become less physically fit, and your breathing will get worse.
Exercises that are incredibly important for COPD patients include aerobic exercises, strength and conditioning, and breathing exercise. Yoga and tai chi are two forms of exercise that help with all of those aspects of exercise and they also help improve flexibility and mental health!
Tai Chi and yoga are two forms of exercise that can help COPD patients improve their blood pressure, help with relaxation and self-confidence, reduce stress and anxiety, and will help improve their overall fitness.
Keep an open mind and if your doctor agrees that yoga or tai chi would be a good option to improve your health, give it a try!