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Sports Medicine

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 307–325 | Cite as

The Impact of Exercise Training Intensity on Change in Physiological Function in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

  • Scott J. Butcher
  • Richard L. JonesEmail author
Review Article

Abstract

Pulmonary rehabilitation incorporating exercise training is an effective method of enhancing physiological function and quality of life for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Despite the traditional belief that exercise is primarily limited by the inability to adequately increase ventilation to meet increased metabolic demands in these patients, significant deficiencies in muscle function, oxygen delivery and cardiac function are observed that contribute to exercise limitation. Because of this multifactorial exercise limitation, defining appropriate exercise training intensities is difficult. The lack of a pure cardiovascular limitation to exercise prohibits the use of training guidelines that are based on cardiovascular factors such as oxygen consumption or heart rate.

Current recommendations for exercise training intensity for patients with COPD include exercising at a ‘maximally tolerable level’, at an intensity corresponding with 50% of peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak), or at 60–80% of peak power output obtained on a symptom-limited exercise tolerance test. In general, it appears that higher intensity training elicits greater physiological change than lower intensity training; however, there is no consensus as to the exercise training intensity that elicits the greatest physiological benefit while remaining tolerable to patients.

The ‘optimal’ intensity of training likely depends upon the individual goals of each patient. If the goal is to increase the ability to sustain tasks that are currently able to be performed, lower to moderate-intensity training is likely to be sufficient. If the goal of training, however, is to increase the ability to perform tasks that are above the current level of tolerance, higher intensity training is likely to elicit greater performance increases. In order to perform higher intensity exercise, an interval training model is likely required. High-intensity interval training involves significant anaerobic energy utilisation and, therefore, may better mimic the physiological requirements of activities of daily living. Also, high-intensity interval training is tolerable to patients and may, in fact, reduce the degree of dyspnoea and dynamic hyperinflation through a reduced ventilatory demand. Another factor that will determine the optimal intensity of training is the relative contribution of ventilatory limitation to exercise tolerance. If peak exercise tolerance is limited by a patient’s ability to increase ventilation, it is possible that interval training at an intensity higher than peak will elicit greater muscular adaptation than an intensity at or below peak power on an incremental exercise test. More research is required to determine the optimal training intensity for pulmonary rehabilitation patients.

Keywords

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Exercise Training Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patient Work Rate Interval Training 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

Mr Butcher is supported by a Canadian Lung Association — Canadian Physiotherapy Cardiorespiratory Society Fellowship. The authors disclose that they have no conflicts of interest related to the contents of this manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pulmonary Division, Department of MedicineUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Physical Education and RecreationUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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