Exercise and pulmonary fibrosis

Regular exercise is important for physical and mental wellbeing. It builds muscle strength, improves sleep and helps you to stay a healthy weight.

Small steps make a big difference

Exercise can be difficult when you are breathless. If you are not used to being active, the idea can seem daunting. However, even simple exercises can make a big difference to your wellbeing and can improve how you feel day to day.

The key is to make the exercise regular rather than strenuous. Taking some exercise three or four times a week will maintain the benefits you are gaining and help it to become part of your routine.

To start with, aim for about 20 to 30 minutes. This could mean:

  • Going for a walk. This could simply be to the shops and back; you don’t need to plan a major expedition!
  • Gardening. Again, just some weeding and tidying is a good start
  • Housework. Not the most exciting activity, but it can involve quite a lot of muscle work.

Try to build activity into your day. Take the stairs instead of the lift; if you use the bus, get off a stop early and walk the rest; park your car at the far end of the car park; walk round the room when you’re on the phone.

There are lots of apps and fitness monitors (e.g. FitBit) available to keep track of progress and give you a sense of achievement – always useful for those days when you’re struggling to be enthusiastic about exercise!

Don’t forget, getting slightly short of breath when you exercise is safe, however you must stop if you feel dizzy or have chest pains. A good test is whether you can continue a conversation while exercising. If not, slow down a bit.

Joining a gym

If you think it would work for you, join a gym. Committing to some classes can help to make sure you attend – most gyms offer Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates as well as more vigorous classes. Yoga can be particularly beneficial as it focuses on breathing control as well as building muscle strength.

Most gyms will help you to plan a programme of exercise that suits you. Check out what your local council has on offer – they may be cheaper than commercial gyms, especially if you receive certain benefits or allowances.

You may find it helpful to set yourself targets or discuss an exercise programme with your doctor or treatment team. They will be able to recommend exercise options you can do by yourself or in a group.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

You may be offered a pulmonary rehab programme. This includes educational training about pulmonary fibrosis, as well as supporting exercises that may be performed in a group. Once you have started on a pulmonary rehabilitation class, you can do the exercises at home.

The NHS offers more information.

Active steps

The British Lung Foundation runs the Active Steps programme for people with lung conditions in England.

It provides an information pack including an activity diary, regular newsletters with useful tips, information about local activities and regular calls to keep you motivated.

Information provided by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis (APF) is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s intended as general information only. APF is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any loss or damage suffered by users resulting from the information published on actionpf.org.

Further information for carers:

Your essential caring guide (PDF)
Print this article

You’ll find related articles here:

You might also find this helpful:

What is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Personal stories
Support line
Support groups