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Exercise and Lung Health

You already know exercise is good for you. You probably think about the way it can boost your fitness, trim your waistline, strengthen you heart and even improve your mood. But did you know that exercise can also help keep your lungs healthy?

Group of three women exercising for lung health.

How Does Exercise Strengthen the Lungs?

When you are physically active, your heart and lungs work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles demand. Just like regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, it also makes your lungs and heart stronger. As your physical fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles. That's one of the reasons that you are less likely to become short of breath during exercise over time.

Some types of exercise can also strengthen the muscles of the neck and chest, including the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs that work together to power inhaling and exhaling.

The Benefits of Exercise

Exercise has lots of benefits for everyone, whether you are young or old, slender or large, able-bodied or living with a chronic illness or disability. Physical activity can reduce your risk of serious illness, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer, including lung cancer. Being active can help you stay active, by strengthening bones, improving flexibility and agility, reducing weight gain and improving sleep. Regular exercise is good for your head too. It can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, improve attention and memory, and reduce the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.1

What Types of Exercise and How Much?

National guidelines recommend that all adults get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. It doesn't have to be a formal exercise program to be beneficial. Some examples of moderate activity include walking briskly, recreational bicycling, gardening and vigorous housecleaning.  

Both aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening activities can benefit your lungs. Aerobic activities like walking, running or jumping rope give your heart and lungs the kind of workout they need to function efficiently. Muscle-strengthening activities like weight-lifting or Pilates build core strength, improving your posture, and toning your breathing muscles. Breathing exercises in particular can strengthen your diaphragm and train your body to breathe more deeply and more effectively.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

  • Always talk to your doctor before you start or modify your exercise routine. This is especially important if you have an underlying health condition.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high. When the air is bad, walk indoors in a shopping mall or gym or use an exercise machine. Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors if the air quality is unhealthy.

Exercising with Lung Disease

People living with lung disease can and should get regular exercise for all the same reasons as everyone else. Your lungs and heart stay stronger, you are better able to perform the tasks of daily living and you feel better in mind and body. But if you already are dealing shortness of breath, it can be intimidating to think about increasing your physical activity. It is important to work with your healthcare team to make a fitness plan that works for you.

To learn more about staying active with lung disease, check out the links below:

  • Sources
    1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018

    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed March 22, 2019.

    Page Last Updated: March 26, 2019

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