Boosting Exercise Tolerance in COPD

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Exercise is important for people with COPD, but physical activity can be tiring, particularly as the disease advances. Whole-body vibration training (WBVT) involves standing or performing lower-body exercises on a platform that mechanically vibrates at various frequencies. The rapid micro-movements enhance the stretching and contraction of lower leg muscles and have been shown to increase exercise capacity in athletes. Recent evidence from two small randomized controlled trials suggests WBVT may be an effective way to boost exercise capacity in people with COPD.

In one 2017 study published in Respiratory Care, 27 men and women (median age, 69) with mild to severe COPD completed a 30-minute exercise routine twice weekly for three months, but half also included 15 minutes of WBVT. At the end of the study, the WBVT group performed significantly better than the no-WBVT group on a series of fitness assessments, including the six-minute walk test.

A study of 87 patients (age 50 to 80) with severe COPD, published in 2017 in Respiratory Medicine, found that those who took part in a conventional exercise program plus WBVT demonstrated greater improvements in exercise capacity and balance than the conventional exercise alone group. Neither study reported any adverse outcomes.

More research is needed to confirm these findings. Also, the appropriate vibration frequency, intensity, and duration of treatment for people with COPD are unknown. With those caveats in mind, if you’re interested, ask your doctor if she or he can refer you to a physical therapist who can help safely incorporate WBVT into your exercise routine.