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Chronic Lung Disease: Becoming More Active

Exercise is an important part of your treatment. You may wonder how you can exercise without becoming short of breath. The answer is, you can’t. But this isn’t necessarily bad. Shortness of breath is a sign that you’re pushing yourself. And pushing yourself now means you’ll be able to do more in the future. The steps on this sheet will help you get started.

Step 1: See Your Doctor

Visit your health care provider before you start. The two of you will set up a safe exercise plan that meets your needs. Ask about types of exercises you can try. Also ask how often to exercise, and how long each session should last. Your doctor may need to evaluate your lungs, heart, and blood pressure before he or she tells you it's okay to start. And, your doctor may tell you to use a fast-acting bronchodilator before each exercise session. He or she may also tell you to use oxygen during exercise. Be sure to follow all of your doctor's instructions.

Step 2: Choose Your Activity

Think about the activities you discussed with your doctor. Choose the ones that appeal to you—you’re more likely to keep exercising if you’re enjoying it! Your choices may include:

  • Chair exercises, such as moving your arms and legs while sitting. These may be good if you’re too short of breath to do other types of exercises.

  • Lifting light hand weights or water bottles to build upper body strength.

  • Walking. This is a good way to get oxygen moving through your body. You can walk outdoors or indoors, such as around the house or at a shopping mall.

  • Swimming, water aerobics, using a stationary bike or treadmill, or other options.

Step 3: Get Moving

Exercise is most effective when it’s done at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Start gradually and work up to this goal. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Make exercise a regular part of your routine. You may enjoy exercising with friends.

  • Use a watch to keep track of how long you exercise each day. Record your progress in a notebook.

  • Increase your endurance gradually. For instance, add one minute to your exercise time each week.

  • Once you’ve reached your goal, maintain it by varying your activities.

  • On days you don’t feel as well, break your exercise into several shorter periods. For instance, instead of walking for 30 minutes, you can take three 10-minute walks.

Step 4: Stay Safe

Follow these guidelines to stay safe while you exercise:

  • Use pursed-lip breathing to control shortness of breath.

  • Remember that everyone gets short of breath during exercise—even people without chronic lung disease! But if you can’t speak, you’re pushing yourself too hard.

  • Pace yourself. Stop and rest when you need to.

  • If you have increased or unusual shortness of breath during exercise, slow down. If this continues, stop and rest.


Signs of Overexertion

Stop exercising right away and contact your health care provider if you feel any of these:

  • Unusual or increasing shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Burning, tightness, heaviness, or pressure in your chest

  • Unusual aching in your arms, shoulder, neck, jaw, or back

  • A racing or skipping heartbeat

  • Feeling much more tired than usual

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea

  • Unusual joint pain



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