Exercise and Lung Conditions

There are several lung conditions including some such as: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, asthma, bronchiectasis, interstitial lung diseases, pleural mesothelioma, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).

How can exercise help?

Individuals who suffer from a chronic lung condition find it difficult to participate in physical activity as they experience breathlessness and fatigue, even when participating in low intensity activity. Despite experiencing these symptoms, evidence shows that inactivity leads to deconditioning which worsens breathlessness and fatigue.

Participating in regular physical activity and exercise, individuals with lung conditions can break this cycle and improve fitness and strength. This will lead to an improvement in symptoms and make being active feel easier and more achievable. Being active can also reduce the risk of any potential hospital admissions in the future. 

Those that have been diagnosed with a lung condition should aim to meet the recommendations of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. The aim being 150 minutes of physical activity per week whilst breaking up extended periods of sitting/lying down. 

Aerobic exercise such as walking and cycling are important for improving respiratory health and should be incorporated with resistance exercise. It is important to be aware that progressing upper body exercises can be difficult for individuals with lung conditions. 

Important things to remember during exercise for those with a lung condition

Inspiratory muscle weakness

  • Can be a contributor to exercise intolerance and breathing difficulties
  • Inspiratory muscle training can help to increase strength and endurance of these muscles - involves breathing through a specialised device which applies a pre-set level of resistance to inspiration

Oxyhemoglobin desaturation

  • Can be experienced during exercise
  • Pulse oximetry assessment is important for initial exercise training
  • Interval training or cycling can help prevent oxygen desaturation during exercise

Inhaled medication prior to exercise

  • Must always be taken
  • For individuals with asthma, it is recommended that they take their reliever inhaler 15 minutes prior to exercise as this helps the airways open up and prevents exercise induced bronchoconstriction

Breathless can be distressing

  • Leaning forward and resting the forearms on a bench/back of chair can assist in supporting the breathing muscles and reduce breathlessness


Exercise Right. 2022. Lung Conditions - Exercise Right. [online] Available at: <>