a woman doing yoga

Exercising When You Have a Lung Condition

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2022

Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms of lung conditions. These issues can make it hard to want to exercise. They can also make it challenging to complete some exercise plans.1-3

You may even feel like being physically active is not possible for you. But exercise plans can be adjusted to meet almost any needs. For almost anyone, physical activity can help increase overall well-being and lung health.1-3

General benefits of exercise

In general, exercise has many benefits. It can help you maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your bones, muscles, and heart. Exercise also reduces your risk of developing several health problems, including:1

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung and other types of cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia

Maintaining an exercise plan can also improve:1,2

Exercise has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, which can result from living with a lung condition.1,4

Benefits of exercise to the lungs

Your lungs, and your ability to breathe well, are greatly affected by regular activity. When you exercise, your body gets better at carrying oxygen around to your muscles and organs. This makes your heart and lungs more efficient over time. It also can help reduce symptoms like shortness of breath.1,5

Strengthening the muscles around your neck, chest, and belly can be helpful, too. Making these muscles stronger can lead to fuller inhales and exhales. You can take more good, deep breaths.1,5

Can I exercise with a lung condition?

It may feel like exercising is out of the question because of your lung symptoms. However, exercise comes in many forms. It can be tailored to different health needs, abilities, and interests. In most cases, a safe and fulfilling activity plan can be created specifically for you.2,3

Nearly everyone can participate in some form of activity, even if they have a health issue that affects their lungs. For example, many experts recommend that people with MAC lung disease exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. What “moderate exercise” looks like can vary. It may be jogging around the neighborhood. It also might be gentle yoga in a chair. The key is finding the right balance.4

Create an exercise plan with your doctor

Before starting any new exercise plan, talk with your doctor first. This is especially important if you have a lung condition or other potential limitation. Your doctor can help determine what kinds of activities are right for you and set realistic goals.1-3

Your doctor may perform simple activity tolerance tests to see what your baseline abilities are. They also can recommend a physical therapist or physical trainer who can work closely with you. These professionals may perform some assessments, too.1-3

In some cases, your doctor might recommend pulmonary rehabilitation (PR). In PR, people with lung issues are given education and exercises to help improve their breathing and clear out mucus. Exercises might include controlled breathing or coughing while focusing on specific muscle groups.1,2

Tips for starting and maintaining your exercise plan

Creating an exercise plan is great. However, sticking to the plan over time is when real benefits happen. Tips for staying committed to your goals include:3

  • Do activities you love, like gardening, dancing, light hiking, or walking with friends.
  • Find a buddy to exercise with to help keep you accountable and make things more fun.
  • Keep in contact with your doctor so they can monitor you for any issues.
  • Remember to stay hydrated, pace yourself, and take breaks to avoid injury.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors if the air quality or weather are poor.
  • Break exercise up into smaller bits of time, like 3 short walks throughout the day if 1 long walk is too much.
  • Create a journal with exercise goals and reflections to keep your mind connected to the physical work you are doing.

Talk with your doctor about how to adjust your medicines for exercise. Some people benefit from using an inhaler to open the lungs before exercise.3

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