Can Someone with COPD Experience Second Wind?

What is Second Wind?

Dear Dr. Mahler:

I started pulmonary rehab at the local hospital about 5 weeks ago and have noticed what I call a “second wind” at times walking on the treadmill or riding the bike. My doctor has told me that my lungs are working at 53% of normal, and I take Anoro in the morning along with albuterol inhaler when I need some more relief. Can someone with COPD experience a “second wind?”

Bill from Davenport, IA

Dear Bill,

I congratulate you on participating in pulmonary rehabilitation program. There are many benefits of a supervised exercise training program, one of which is less breathlessness with daily activities.

“Second wind” is a person’s ability to breathe freely during exercise, after having been out of breath. One person described it as, “To me, it just feels like I have something left in the tank.  It’s a confidence that, between energy stores and breathing, I feel like I can do more.”

For many people, the first experience of “second wind” occurs when playing sports.  For those with COPD, “second wind” may occur during a pulmonary rehabilitation session.  Although “second wind” may be hard to explain to others, most everyone agrees that it is a pleasant feeling.

If those who  have not experienced “second wind,” consider that the start of exercise can be associated with feeling sluggish, slow to move, and it may even be hard to breathe.  These initial feelings may be unpleasant so that you may even think about stopping or “giving up.”  However, if you are able to continue, the motions of your arms, legs, and entire body may become more fluid and your energy level rises.  It is possible, even likely, that breathing becomes easier.

Woman walking on treadmill to achieve second wind

Woman exercising on treadmill

Certainly, you can experience “second wind.”  Scientists suggest that “second wind” occurs when a physical activity lasts for at least 10 minutes.  Some individuals with asthma or COPD have told me that they have experienced a “second wind” while doing any sustained activity such as house work, yard work, walking, and hiking. The key is that the activity needs to be sustained.

The 10 minute requirement is a reason why those participating in pulmonary rehabilitation have the best chance of experiencing a “second wind.”  The sessions are supervised by a trained professional who monitors your body’s responses (heart rate, breathing, and oxygen level) and also provides encouragement to do more than you did last session or last week.  The entire experience provides an environment for safely “pushing yourself” to exercise beyond the 10 minutes in order to hopefully experience a “second wind.”


Donald A. Mahler, M.D.