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11 Tips for Exercising with a Chronic Lung Condition

chronic lung condition exercise, exerciseIf you have a chronic lung condition and find exercising difficult, you’re not alone. Many people with respiratory problems avoid exercise because of the limitations imposed upon them by breathlessness.  But avoiding exercise is not the answer. In fact, it will only make your lung disease worse.

If a chronic lung condition limits your ability to exercise, the following tips may motivate you to get up off that couch and start moving again:

1. Talk to your doctor first. Before beginning any type of exercise program, get medical clearance from your primary care provider. Once you know that you’re well enough to exercise, you can move on to bigger and better things — like exercising!

2. Pick an exercise you enjoy. If walking is not your thing, why do it? Picking an exercise you enjoy improves your chances of sticking to the exercise program you’ve chosen, which improves the physiological benefits of exercise.

3. Clear your airways before you begin. There’s nothing worse than having mounds of mucus arise out of nowhere when you’re trying to get your exercise groove on. Clearing your airways before you start to exercise allows you to breathe easier and exercise longer.

4. Use your inhaler prior to exercising. There is some evidence to support that using a bronchodilator before exercising increases exercise tolerance in some patients with chronic lung disease.[1] That said, if your medication regimen includes an inhaler, be sure to use it before your exercise session begins.

5. Begin with stretching and a 5 minute warm-up. Before you tackle the cardio portion of your exercise program, it’s important that you warm up your muscles with gentle stretching. Stretching not only increases your flexibility, but reduces your risk of injury, as well. After you’ve loosened up a bit, start your session off at a relaxed pace for at least 5 minutes before you increase your intensity.

6. Start slowly and gradually increase. Marathon runners don’t start off by running marathons; on the contrary, they start with shorter runs and work their way up to their ultimate goal of 26 miles. If you’re new to exercising, start by doing only 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day and gradually work your way up to longer sessions at greater intensity.

7. Don’t forget the H2O. If you’re not on a fluid restriction, drink plenty of water before, during and after strenuous exercise. Exercising makes many people sweat excessively, which can lead to dehydration, especially when you’re not well-hydrated, are elderly and live in warmer climates.

8. Don’t forget your Inogen One. Studies suggest that using supplemental oxygen during exercise increases exercise performance[2] and decreases the sensation of shortness of breath.[3] Remember, if you don’t normally use oxygen, but your blood oxygen levels drop during exercise, your doctor may recommend supplemental oxygen during exercise only. Additionally, if you are currently prescribed supplemental oxygen, your oxygen requirements may increase during exercise. Be sure to discuss your oxygen needs during exercise with your health care provider.

9. Pay close attention to how you feel during exercise.  If you experience extreme breathlessness or any other type of discomfort, stop for a moment to regain your breath and your composure. Once you have your breath under control, start again at a slower pace. If your symptoms don’t subside after resting for 5 to 10 minutes, contact your health care provider and seek emergency medical attention as soon as possible.

10. Don’t exercise when you’re sick. If you’re experiencing a COPD exacerbation or symptoms of another illness, wait until you’ve completely recovered to begin exercising again. Then, start back slowly and gradually build back up to where you left off.

11. Cool down and stretch again at the end of your session. Once you’ve completed your workout at your body’s maximum intensity, don’t just suddenly stop. To allow your body and your heart rate to recover without consequence, slow your pace down for at least 5 minutes before completely stopping. Remember to conclude each workout session with gentle stretching.

This article is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice and you should always consult your doctor prior to any exercise routine.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


[1] Kitaguchi Y, Fujimoto K, Komatsu Y, Hanaoka M, Honda T, Kubo K. Additive efficacy of short-acting bronchodilators on dynamic hyperinflation and exercise tolerance in stable COPD patients treated with long-acting bronchodilators. Respir Med. 2013 Mar;107(3):394-400. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2012.11.013. Epub 2012 Dec 12.
[2] Nasiloqski J. Benefits of oxygen on exercise performance in patients with chronic lung diseases. Pneumonol Alergol Pol. 2013;81(3):259-66.
[3] Garrod R, Paul EA, Wedzicha JA. Supplemental oxygen during pulmonary rehabilitation in patients with COPD with exercise hypoxemia. Thorax. 2000 Jul;55(7):539-43.Photo Credit: Jennifer C., Treadmill

12 thoughts on “11 Tips for Exercising with a Chronic Lung Condition”

  1. Avatar patricia diamond says:

    Do you have reps in the midwest area?

  2. Avatar betty aguilera says:

    I have sarcoidosis I do exercise, water aerobic one hour
    at least 3 times a week. I have problems walking hills
    even if they are small.

  3. Avatar Bernice Wendland says:

    Is that a typo in item 9? "If your symptoms don't reside." Should it be subside?

    1. Web Admin Web Admin says:

      Hi Bernice, Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have corrected it. Please enjoy our other blog posts.

  4. Avatar Karen Allen says:

    Hi I am new to this I have 70% at pulminary test a yr ago I clean 1 house per wk and work every other wk end w people who special needs I use inhaler daily x1 I still smoke got sober 1980 never looked back my depression is so what if I smoke I already have emphazima I want lung transplant lol is what medical says addictiono is addiction why aren't smokers TX like other addicts medically

    1. Avatar Kelly says:

      First, let me say kudos on your long term sobriety: That is a HUGE accomplishment.
      You will not ever receive a lung transplant as a smoker. And, frankly, you shouldn't. Why would you accept the gift of new lungs without first ensuring you would care for them? I have Pulmonary Fibrosis, caused by an Autoimmune disease, and have been told by my doctors that a lung transplant is in my future. I worry often, what if I receive new lungs, and my disease just ends up destroying the new lungs, depriving another needy candidate? It is, for me, just a horrifying thought. Well, I'd be tested thoroughly to ensure I had no disqualifying conditions. That said, I think smokers are treated just like everyone else, and the smoking would definitely be a disqualifying factor

  5. Avatar jonnw32097@yahoo.com says:

    Karen I have been diagnosed ? with copd for something like i5 years ? Inhalers have never helped me ! My finger blood oxygen has never been under 94% even when I have to stop and sit down and pant for upwards of five minutes . Last year I was finally sent to a pulmanary lab where they did pulmanary tests and an mri and told me what good shape that i am in and when I asked her the usual questions of why do I run down and run out of breath so quickly I got the usual answer ""Oh I don't know or as sometimes I get "maybe it is because you are so old " I know I have a few years on me 86 . as there are others having the same problems as I ,Is there any way for doctors to tell what part of my body Or organ, brain ,heart or whatever and I need hip surgary but I am afraid that if I ran out of breath on the operating table the anetheoligist would not know it because they depend on finger blood oxygen reading and if he/she did realse it they would not be able to help me Help

  6. Avatar johnny leatherwood says:

    Tell me how my wife can exercise when she cant hardly get up to go to the bath room without running out of breath she is on oxygen 24 hrs a day

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Johnny-
      Sorry to hear this. Perhaps she can do some floor or chair exercises w light weights?

  7. Avatar George Polston says:

    I have a cancer called Sarcoma as well as some Pulmonary conditions. I am on oxygen but just getting up to go to bathroom I am completely out of breath. I have gotten to the point were I wear my oxygen into the shower. I don't know of any exercise that would work for me.

  8. Avatar Norma says:

    Any exercise is better than none. Have your wife sit in a chair with her arms outstretched and then raise straight up over her head 5 times, one arm at a time. Then do the same with each leg, raising the heal off the floor 5-6 inches. That’s it! Now do the same thing 3x/day for a week and the following week she will be able to do them 10x each. Then she’ll be able to add more movements each week from there. Remember – The key to better breathing is fresh air, water, iron-rich foods & EXERCISE!

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