An Exercise Physiologists Guide to Lung Health

You already know exercise is good for you – you know it improves your fitness, your sleep and your mood, and trims your waistline… but did you know exercise  also keeps your lungs healthy? We don’t often consider the critical role our lungs play in keeping us fit, strong and well. It’s not until we’re short of breath that we even stop and think about our lungs, but the truth is, like the rest of our body, the health of our lungs needs our attention!

Your lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold. Over time, your lung capacity and lung function typically decrease slowly as you age beyond your mid-20s. Some conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can accelerate these reductions in lung capacity and function. This leads to difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath.

Fortunately, there are exercises that can help maintain and increase lung capacity, making it easier to keep your lungs healthy and get your body the oxygen it needs.

How Does Exercise Strengthen the Lungs?

When you’re physically active, your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles demand. Just like regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, it also makes your heart and lungs stronger. As your fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen to the bloodstream and transporting it to your 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 help you inhale and exhale.

The Benefits of Exercise

Exercise has lots of benefits for everyone. Whether you are young or old, lean or large, able-bodied or living with a chronic illness or disability. Physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer, including lung cancer. Having an exercise routine can help strengthen bones, improving flexibility, maintain a healthy weight and improve sleep quality. Regular exercise is good for your mental health too. It can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, improve attention and memory, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

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, riding your bike, gardening or vigorously cleaning your home.

Aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening exercises can benefit your lungs. 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 tone 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

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

Exercising with Lung Disease

Exercising with a lung condition can be daunting – even scary! But exercise is crucial for managing your lung condition, and with the right support from an exercise physiologist, you can include regular exercise into your daily routine, and feel better for it.

People living with lung disease can and should get regular exercise for all the same reasons as everyone else. Your heart and lungs 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.

Accredited exercise physiologists specialise in clinical exercise interventions for people with a broad range of health issues – including lung disease. The aims of exercise physiology interventions are to prevent or manage acute, sub- acute or chronic disease or injury, and assist in restoring you to optimal physical function, health or wellness. These interventions are exercise-based and include health and physical activity education, advice and support. We’re here to help you be the best you can be, no matter the challenges you’re dealing with.

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