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COPD & Exercise Heart Rate

author image Erika Henritz
Based in Olathe, Kan., Erika Henritz began her writing/editing career in 1994. She specializes in health publications and has worked for ATI, where she served as editor for several nursing textbooks, including the company's R.N. and P.N. "Mental Health" and "Fundamentals of Nursing" reviews. Erika holds a Bachelor of Science in education and foreign language from the University of Kansas.
COPD & Exercise Heart Rate
Stethoscope and EKG Photo Credit Photopa1/iStock/Getty Images

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, doing daily activities such can be difficult. The disease's effect on your ability to exercise can be profound enough to make you consider giving up on working out altogether. However, understanding COPD and why it can make physical activity difficult, as well as learning some tools to help monitor your condition during exercise, can help you to meet your fitness goals.

About COPD

COPD refers to a host of lung diseases that block airflow and it is the No. 1 cause of illness and deaths in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The primary cause of the disease is smoking. However, you can also develop it through secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke and overexposure to other irritants, such as air pollution.


Once damage to your lungs occurs, there is no way to reverse it. Symptoms of COPD do not generally become apparent until serious lung damage occurs. The primary symptom of COPD is difficulty breathing. If you experience a chronic cough or you are contracting respiratory infections often, these are also symptoms of COPD.

The disease process of COPD causes difficulty with the passage of air into and out of your lungs. Your heart and lungs are constantly working harder --- even when you are at rest --- to maintain oxygen levels in your blood. As it applies to exercise, one serious symptom of COPD is a consistently rapid heart rate. Physical activity can cause your heart rate to raise to a level exceeding its capacity to work well.

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Target Heart Rate

COPD causes your heart to work harder to deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, which means your heart beats faster. Aerobic exercise also causes your heart to beat faster to replenish oxygen used during your workout. Maximum heart rate is a term used by medical and exercise experts to describe the hardest your heart can work while still being able to carry out its important responsibilities. It is a prediction of your heart's capacity. Avoid exceeding your maximum heart rate under any circumstances.

Heart rate is defined as the number of times your heart beats in a minute. The National Institutes of Health indicate that one way to determine your maximum heart rate is to take the number 220 and subtract your age in years. For example, if you are 65 years old, your theoretical maximum heart rate is 220 - 65, or 155, with some margin of error. Using this number, you can determine a target heart rate range for your age, which is generally 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you are a healthy 65 years old, an appropriate target heart rate zone for you during exercise is 78 to 132. Track your heart rate during exercise with a heart rate monitor -- heart rate monitors are available a sporting goods stores and online.

If you have COPD, you'll reach your target heart rate range quickly. The likelihood of exceeding that rate and approaching your maximum heart rate is much higher for you than for someone who is healthy. It is for this reason that your doctor will likely modify the guidelines for maximum and target heart rates for you as you begin your exercise program.

Approaching Exercise Cautiously

An exercise program that concentrates on cardiovascular exercise will be most beneficial in terms of managing your COPD. With consistent, cautious exercise, your heart and lungs will become stronger, and your body will begin to use the oxygen you do take in more efficiently. Your heart will not have to work as hard to fulfill its duties as it strengthens and both your resting and exercise heart rates will begin to decline. Stretching exercises and light weight-training exercise are also beneficial.

Avoid heavy weightlifting and isometric exercises as these can contribute to a more rapid heart rate than steady aerobic exercise. Avoid training on an incline if you use a treadmill. If you are walking outside, avoid hilly terrain. There is no reason to overdo it, especially if you have COPD. Avoid exercising if you are fatigued or if you are even mildly ill. If while monitoring your heart rate, you notice it getting too high, slow down your workout until your heart rate is within an appropriate range.

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