With medical approval, physical exercise can be very beneficial for persons with chronic lung disease. In fact, it has been shown to improve their endurance, decrease symptoms and reduce hospital stays, according to the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions.* The authors recommend working with one’s doctor to develop a personalized exercise plan, to start out at a very low intensity level, and to progress very gradually. Over time, one’s shortness of breath at a given exertion level should begin to decrease. Following are some additional training tips specific to lung disease from the authors of Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions:
Using your medicine — especially an inhaler — before exercising can help you to exercise for longer periods of time and to do so with less shortness of breath.
If you become severely short of breath upon minimal exertion, your physician may wish to adjust your medicines. For some patients, the doctor may order the use of supplemental oxygen before beginning an exercise session.
Perform lengthy, thorough warm ups and cool downs. While warming up and cooling down, breathe in through the nose, allowing your belly to expand outward, then exhale slowly through pursed lips. Establish a daily low-intensity routine on which you can build gradually.
During exercise, mild shortness of breath is to be expected. Also, prior to exercise, you may experience an "anticipatory" increase in heart rate and breathing rate. Although this is normal, it can be intimidating or tiring for some persons with chronic lung disease. A gradual warm up period including pursed lip breathing can help. Also, avoid your
personal "trouble zones" of shortness of breath by limiting exercise intensity and duration to levels well under the threshhold at which severe shortness of breath occurs.
Throughout the exercise session, breathe in deeply and slowly. Exhale through pursed lips, taking two to three times as long to exhale as to inhale. When walking, for example, if you take take two steps while inhaling, practice exhaling through pursed lips over four to six steps. Exhaling this slowly improves air exchange in the lungs and will likely increase endurance.
Note that arm exercises may cause shortness of breath sooner than leg exercises do.
Cold air and/or dry air can make breathing and exercising more difficult for persons with chronic lung disease (which is why many choose swimming as their preferred exercise activity).
With physician approval, strength training (for example, calisthenics or light weight lifting) may be especially helpful for persons who have been weakened or deconditioned due to medications such as steroids.
For exercise beginners who have low endurance or who fear exerting themselves, using a restorator can offer a greater sense of control, build self-confidence, and provide a secure, user-friendly way to get used to physical exertion. A restorator lets you stay chair-seated during exercise. You can start and stop the device as desired. It is a small piece of equipment featuring foot pedals that you place on the floor at the foot of your chair (or even attach to the foot of your bed if lying-down exercise is needed). To exercise, simply pedal. The resistance level can be adjusted, and leg length and knee bend can be accommodated by placement of the restorator. This can be particularly useful for persons who have poor balance.
*Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, Third Edition, was written by Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH; Halsted Holman, MD; David Sobel, MD; Diana Laurent, MPH; Virginia Gonzalez, MPH; and Marian Minor, RPT, PhD; with contributor Peg Harrison, MA, MSW, LCSW.