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

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