Regular physical activity is important for lung health and there is a level of exercise or activity that is suitable for everyone. Being active benefits both the population in general and also people living with lung conditions. It has been shown to improve quality of life and fitness in healthy individuals and to reduce the risk of chronic conditions.
ELF easy at home exercise series
What are the benefits of exercise?
It is normal to get breathless during exercise. However, regular exercise can increase the strength and function of your muscles, making them work more efficiently. As your muscle strength increases, this will reduce the amount of air you need to breathe in and out for a given exercise.
Regular activity also improves your circulation and strengthens your heart. It improves overall well-being and can decrease the risk of developing other conditions such as stroke, heart disease and depression. Regular exercise is also one of the most important interventions to prevent the onset of type-II diabetes.
Exercising with a lung condition
People with long-term lung conditions can help improve their symptoms through regular physical activity. The thought of becoming quickly out of breath can be daunting and you may not feel motivated to start moving. However, if you do less activity you become less fit and daily activities will become even harder. It is best to ask the guidance of a doctor or physiotherapist before you begin changing your activity levels, to ensure that your plans are in line with your capacity and are safe. All exercise and physical activity programmes must be built up over time to allow the body to adapt.
Top tips for keeping active
- At the start of your work-out, prepare yourself with gentle activities involving the muscles you will be using during your exercise (warm up).
- Improve your flexibility with stretching exercises.
- Gradually improve your ability to exercise for longer periods (build up stamina).
- Increase activity at your own pace, and do not be afraid to get modestly out of breath (i.e. 4–5 on a scale of 0–10).
- Improve your muscle strength (i.e. by lifting weights).
- At the end of your work-out, slow down your activities, stretch the muscles you have used, and allow your breathing to return to normal (cool down).
Remember: Exercise can bring many benefits and be enjoyable, even with a long-term health problem. Even if a task seems difficult at first, if you tackle one thing at a time at your own pace, you will quickly notice an improvement in your symptoms.
Factsheets and videos
Scientific and clinical resources
- Clinical Exercise Testing, ERS Monograph, (2018). Editors: Paolo Palange, Pierantonio Laveneziana, J. Alberto Neder and Susan A. Ward
- An official European Respiratory Society statement on physical activity in COPD (2014)
- ERS statement on exercise training and rehabilitation in patients with severe chronic pulmonary hypertension (2018)
- An official European Respiratory Society statement on physical activity in COPD. Henrik Watz , Fabio Pitta, Carolyn L. Rochester, Judith Garcia-Aymerich, Richard ZuWallack, Thierry Troosters, Anouk W. Vaes, Milo A. Puhan, Melissa Jehn, Michael I. Polkey, Ioannis Vogiatzis, Enrico M. Clini, Michael Toth, Elena Gimeno-Santos, Benjamin Waschki, Cristobal Esteban, Maurice Hayot, Richard Casaburi, Janos Porszasz, Edward McAuley, Sally J. Singh, Daniel Langer, Emiel F.M. Wouters, Helgo Magnussen and Martijn A. Spruit. Eur Respir J 2014; 44: 1521-1537.
- Tailored exercise is safe and beneficial for acutely hospitalised older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. colás Martínez-Velilla, Pedro L. Valenzuela, Fabricio Zambom-Ferraresi, Mikel L. Sáez de Asteasu, Robinson Ramírez-Vélez, Antonio García-Hermoso, Alejandro Lucia, Mikel Izquierdo, European Respiratory Journal 2020.
- Long-term efficacy and effectiveness of a behavioural and community-based exercise intervention (Urban Training) to increase physical activity in patients with COPD: a randomised controlled trial, Ane Arbillaga-Etxarri, Elena Gimeno-Santos, Anael Barberan-Garcia, Eva Balcells, Marta Benet, Eulàlia Borrell, Nuria Celorrio, Anna Delgado, Carme Jané, Alicia Marin, Carlos Martín-Cantera, Mónica Monteagudo, Nuria Montellà, Laura Muñoz, Pilar Ortega, Diego A. Rodríguez, Robert Rodríguez-Roisin, Pere Simonet, Pere Torán-Monserrat, Jaume Torrent-Pallicer, Pere Vall-Casas, Jordi Vilaró, Judith Garcia-Aymerich. European Respiratory Journal 2018 52: 1800063
- Effect of aerobic exercise training on asthma in adults - A systematic review and meta-analysis. Erik Soeren Halvard Hansen, Anders Pitzner-Fabricius, Louise Lindhardt Toennesen, Hanne Kruuse Rasmusen, Morten Hostrup, Ylva Hellsten, Vibeke Backer, Marius Henriksen. (2020) DOI: 10.1183/13993003.00146-2020
- ERS Vision: Take the Active Option: the benefits of exercise in respiratory medicine