COPD Management

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Are you breathless? Have you ever smoked? If so you could have a lung disease called COPD. COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. They are mostly caused by long-term smoking. While there is no cure there are treatments, including physiotherapy, that can help you manage your symptoms and lead a more active lifestyle.


If you have COPD, you may find that you:

  • Cough every day over a long period of time
  • Cough up mucus
  • Feel more breathless than usual when you're physically active

COPD is one of the four biggest causes of death in New Zealand, affecting as many as 300,000 people over 40 in this country. It is also the most significant non-cancer respiratory illness for Māori.

How physio helps

Physiotherapy can help you improve your symptoms and have a more active life. One treatment used for COPD is Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes. These are run by a health team that includes physios, dieticians, social workers, community support workers, and many others.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is proven to;

  • Increase your sense of control
  • Reduce the severity of your breathlessness
  • Improve your mood and motivation
  • Improve muscle strength and function and your exercise endurance

Ask your doctor to refer you for pulmonary classes in your area. If there are no classes available in your area then you can ask to be referred (or self-refer) to a local physio who is skilled in treating people with COPD. Your physio can discuss your needs and put together an activity plan just for you.

What to expect

As well as pulmonary rehab there are a few other things you can do to help your COPD. These are being smoke-free, taking your medication and regular exercise.

Stop smoking

Being smoke-free is very important if you have COPD, because smoking will make your symptoms worse and make it harder for you to breathe. You'll find excellent online support to quit smoking or you can call Quitline free on 0800 778 778. An increasing number of physios are also Quit Card providers and equipped to help you with this area of your health.


You can manage your symptoms by using the drugs that are available for people with COPD. You should also get vaccinated against the flu each year before winter comes around. Ask your doctor for more information.

Regular exercise

If you have COPD you can benefit from exercising regularly because it keeps your heart and breathing muscles in shape, allowing you to do more and maintain your independence. Even a small amount of activity is better than none at all. Pick something that you enjoy; many people with COPD find walking is helpful. Start by walking as far as you can without becoming too breathless, then slowly build up to walking further for longer. You'll soon notice the benefits.


It's important you see a doctor to find out if you have COPD. The symptoms can be similar to asthma but the treatment is quite different. Your doctor can do some simple tests and if they show you have COPD, then start you on a treatment plan.