Get Help

Call the Lung Health Line


Our certified respiratory
educators are ready to take your questions
(M-F 8:30am-4:30pm)

Facts and FAQs

COPD is short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a common lung condition that includes two lung diseases – chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Currently, more than 900,000 Ontarians live with it. COPD makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs, which makes breathing a struggle.

This condition develops over time. In most cases, it is diagnosed in people over 40 years of age. Someone with COPD may not realize that they are becoming more short of breath when doing simple tasks like walking up the stairs and getting dressed.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can’t be cured, but it can be treated. Early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and appropriate treatment can help you feel better and stay out of hospital.

Quitting smoking is the most important step. Quitting smoking helps reduce your health risks even if you already have COPD. In fact, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to feel better and slow down the disease’s rate of progression. It will get worse faster if you continue to smoke.


I am too short of breath to exercise. Wouldn’t exercise only make my COPD worse?

A common symptom of COPD is to feel short of breath when you exercise.   You may be tempted to stop exercising to avoid shortness of breath. But the less you move, the more short of breath you will become. Regular exercise is one of the most important ways to help manage COPD.

Avoid the downward spiral of inactivity. Here’s how it happens:

  1. You get short of breath when you exercise, so you become less active.
  2. When you are less active, you become less fit and more short of breath.
  3. This increased shortness of breath in turn causes you to be even more inactive.

Exercise is important for everyone including people with COPD. Learning other aspects of managing COPD such as breathing and energy management and medication can help you to exercise more. You may also want to join a pulmonary rehabilitation program if there is one in your community.

How can I find a pulmonary rehabilitation program or an exercise maintenance program in my community?

Pulmonary rehabilitation teaches people with lung disease many skills that can help to improve exercise tolerance, reduce shortness of breath and fatigue, and conserve (manage) energy. It is also a great way to be in touch with other people who also have lung disease.

Some communities also offer an exercise maintenance program that allows people to continue exercising once they have completed a pulmonary rehabilitation program.  In some communities, where there is no pulmonary rehabilitation program, a community exercise maintenance program can fill the need to exercise in a safe, supervised setting.

Find out if there is a pulmonary rehabilitation program or an exercise maintenance program in your area.

Fitness for Breath is an exercise maintenance program with several locations across Ontario. To learn more visit the Fitness for Breath website at fitnessforbreath.ca.


What can I do if there is no exercise program in my community?


If there is no pulmonary rehabilitation or exercise maintenance program near you, here are a couple of tips to stay active:

  • Develop your own exercise program with guidance from your health-care provider. An exercise program should include:
    • Aerobic exercise
    • Strength/resistance training (e.g., light weights, elastic resistance bands)
    • Stretching/flexibility exercises
  • “Pursed lip breathing” can help improve how well your lungs move air in and out of your lungs. Learn how to do the pursed lip breathing technique with the Breathlessness fact sheet
  • Walking aids such as rollators can reduce the shortness of breath you may experience while walking

Learn more about the importance of exercise with COPD (both aerobic and strength building):

Find related resources at lungontario.ca/resources and www.livingwellwithcopd.com

Try to exercise regularly or you will lose the benefits of it.  Aim for at least three times per week and work towards 30 minutes at a time. You can start with a few minutes at a time and when you are comfortable, try to increase the time. Physical activity can help you maintain independence, increase energy level, improve mood and could help keep you out of the hospital.

I’ve been diagnosed with COPD. Does it mean I will be on oxygen?

No. Only people who have a low level of oxygen in their blood need supplemental oxygen.  Regular low oxygen levels in your blood is called hypoxemia (hi-pox-eem-ee-a).  In order to know if you require oxygen, your health-care provider will order a test called an arterial blood gas.

The main benefit from oxygen therapy used as prescribed (at least 15 hours per day) is that it can:

  • Help you live longer
  • Reduce shortness of breath to some extent
  • Allow you to exercise more easily

Learn more about supplemental oxygen with our Oxygen and COPD fact sheet.

I have COPD and have been prescribed oxygen.  Does it mean I will get addicted to it?

Oxygen is not addicting.  If it has been prescribed, you need to use it. Avoiding it because you believe you will become addicted or for any other reason will not help you. It is important to know however that oxygen is considered to be a drug. Do not increase the level unless a health-care provider has advised you to.

I have been diagnosed with COPD and was told to quit smoking.  If I stop smoking, can my COPD get better?

Quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take to slow down the rate of lung function worsening, improve your health and your quality of life. These are so many health benefits to quitting smoking. When you quit smoking:

  • Your lungs will be healthier over time
  • You will live longer than if you continued smoking
  • You will have fewer COPD symptoms

I like to exercise outside, but I worry about the effect of pollution on my lungs.

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) can help you to monitor outdoor air quality and adjust your outdoor activity accordingly. On those days when you know that smog levels will be high, you may decide to limit your time spent outdoors and exercise indoors. You may be more comfortable staying inside in a cool environment that is air-conditioned or shaded. Find more information and your current and forecast AQHI levels at www.airhealth.ca.