Healthy Lungs: How can physical activity help?
Being physically active can be a huge step towards improving your health and having healthy lungs. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a lung condition such as COPD, or want to take preventative steps to improve your overall respiratory health, there is plenty of support available.
“Respiratory disease” is a medical term that refers to any of the diseases or disorders that affect the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. Two of the most common types of respiratory disease are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
Having any kind of respiratory disease can be very unpleasant. Being unable to breathe properly can often put people off be active. However, if you have a respiratory disease you shouldn’t let this stop you from maintaining an active lifestyle. Being more active will help.
Getting started: Exercising with lung conditions
This section is designed for those who are living with or supporting someone living with lung problems. It focuses on the ways to manage lung problems in your day to day life. It also looks at how to add physical activity into your day safely.
Reduced feelings of breathlessness
Reduced stress and anxiety and boosted mood
Increased alertness and energy levels
Feeling less fatigued
If you are unsure on what you can and can’t do, please consult your GP or specialist Long-Term Condition Healthcare Professional before increasing your physical activity levels.
Whilst you may be afraid of the breathless feeling that exercise provides, remaining active can actually help strengthen your lungs. This could then reduce the long-term symptoms of lung disease.
Whilst providing all the usual benefits of being physically active such as reducing your likelihood of getting ill and strengthening your bones, exercise will improve the strength of your muscles, heart and circulation system. This means you’ll use Oxygen more efficiently and become less breathless over time!
For more suitable exercises, check out our Active at Home section. We have tailored exercises for all ages and abilities. If you’re looking for resources and other websites to help you get active, check out our respiratory resources section.
Exercising with Asthma: Getting Started
There’s currently no cure for asthma, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it doesn’t have a big impact on your life. One of these is keeping active.
Find out more about getting active with Asthma
If you have asthma, you might be worried to take part in physical activity for fear of an asthma attack. However, taking part in physical activity and getting your heart rate up can actually improve your asthma symptoms and make your condition more manageable. Here is how:
- Raising your heart rate regularly increases stamina and reduces breathlessness
- Keeping active helps to support your immune system and helps fight colds and viruses – a major trigger for over 80% of people with asthma
- Physical activity helps you to maintain a healthy weight, which reduces your risk of an asthma attack
- Physical activity releases endorphins (‘feel-good’ chemicals) in your brain – studies show that if you’re stressed or depressed, you’re at higher risk of asthma symptoms
- Depending on your asthma, you may find that exercising in certain environments may worsen your symptoms and you should bear this in mind. Generally, dry dusty conditions make asthma symptoms worse. The best way to avoid problems is to take your medication before you exercise, and make sure you include a good warm up and cool down session.
Exercising with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Getting Started
Despite myths stating otherwise, you can and should exercise when living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Click the show more button to find out more about exercising with COPD
COPD is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties. It includes:
- Emphysema – damage to the air sacs in the lungs
- Chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the airways
COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control.
If you have COPD and difficulty breathing, exercising may be frightening and the last thing you feel like doing. However, it’s really important to stay active if you have COPD because if you become too sedentary (e.g. you spend long periods of time sitting down), your strength and fitness will decline, and your symptoms will become worse.
People with COPD who do exercise regularly often find that their breathing becomes easier as they get fitter and build up more muscle. They also feel less tired and have a generally better quality of life.
Whilst these aren’t the only lung illnesses, and can vary in severity, it’s important to ensure you’re doing everything possible to maintain healthy lungs.
When to avoid exercise
As there are so many types of heart condition, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ advice. However, you should be fairly safe exercising provided you’ve consulted your GP in advance. You should consider avoiding exercise if:
- Feeling ill, discomfort or fatigued: If you’re feeling tired or ill, stop and consider doing something a little more relaxing until you feel better. Don’t force exercise if you’re not feeling very well and be patient with yourself.
- Undergoing surgery or treatment: If you’ve recently had any form of treatment or surgery, the hospital will likely recommend taking a break from physical activity so your body doesn’t become fatigued. Be sure to listen to their advice.
- Your GP or specialist LTC Healthcare Professional or has recommended it: You should always consult your GP or specialist LTC Healthcare Professional when taking on a new exercise regime. However, if your GP does recommend rest for a short time, be sure to follow this advice.
For Healthcare Professionals
Below are some useful resources on the benefits of remaining physically active with a lung condition. You can download these for future use, or signpost patients to them. There are also exercise referral schemes available.
For further information about having conversations with people about being physically active with a lung condition, please visit Moving Medicine and the E Learning Page for directive conversation support.
How can physical activity help lung conditions?
We know that exercise provides all the usual benefits. This includes strengthening your body, and increasing your resilience to certain diseases. It also goes a long way in improving mental health.
Being physically active can help prevent certain lung conditions. If a patient has already been diagnosed with a lung condition, they can also improve their symptoms. It does this by:
- Strengthening your heart and lungs. Over time, they won’t have to work as hard to supply oxygen.
- Building your energy levels. As your fitness improves with practise, you’ll feel less fatigued when exercising.
- Giving you confidence in your abilities, and improving your mental health.
Resource bank for lung conditions
There are several website which provide information on exercising with a lung condition. Whether you already have issues with your lung, or you’re trying to prevent this, these resources can help.