Arm Exercise Training Reduces Shortness of Breath in COPD

Studies Show that Arm Exercise Improves Breathlessness 

Background: Many individuals with COPD have difficulty performing arm activities due to shortness of breath and arm fatigue. As a result, upper limb exercise training is typically included in pulmonary rehabilitation programs.

Study: Dr. Zoe McKeough and colleagues from the University of Sydney in Australia reviewed all published studies on upper limb exercise training for at least four weeks. They examined: arm exercise (AE) compared with either no or sham (pretend) training; and combined arm and leg exercise compared with only arm exercise. The study was published in the November 15, 2016, issue of the Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews.

Arm crack machine used for arm exercise

Man performing arm exercise using arm crank machine

Findings: A total of twelve studies were included in the analysis. When AE training was compared with either no or sham training, there was a significant improvement in breathing difficulty (four studies of 129 subjects). When upper limb exercise combined with lower limb exercise was compared with AE alone, there was no difference in shortness of breath (2 studies of 55 subjects). There was no improvement in health-related quality of life with AE training.

When AE endurance training was compared with no or sham training OR with combined arm and leg exercise training, there was a large significant improvement in unsupported endurance arm capacity.

Conclusion: Some form of upper limb exercise training when compared with no training or a sham intervention improves breathing difficulty in those with COPD.

My Comments: Arm exercises are important for those with COPD who note breathing difficulty when performing arm activities such as lifting objects (like a grandchild), carrying a grocery package, and moving dishes from the washer and placing them in a cabinet. Also, arm exercise can substitute if someone can not perform leg exercises for whatever reason. This might include those with knee, hip, or back problems or those who use a wheelchair.

Stretch or resistance band for arm exercise

Using stretch or resistance bands at home is the easiest and least expensive way to do upper limb exercise. Ask a physical therapist to show you simple arm exercises to increase strength as well as endurance.