Breathlessness

Living well with breathlessness

Although living with breathlessness can be difficult, many people find ways to cope with it and still enjoy life. On this page, we describe the different things you can do to live well with breathlessness.

Living well with breathlessness involves adapting how you do things to be as independent as possible, while also accepting that at times you may need support from others.

A few changes in your everyday habits can make a big difference and help you cope.

Be more physically active

It’s normal to get out of breath when you exercise. If you avoid activity that makes you get out of breath, this will make your breathlessness worse. Your muscles will get weaker and need more oxygen to work.

As your muscles recover after exercise, they adapt to use oxygen more efficiently. So, with regular exercise, you’ll need to breathe less to do the same activity.

breaking the vicious cycle of inactivity

Over time, doing physical activity that makes you a little bit out of breath will help you feel less out of breath doing everyday activities. Physical activity includes walking, gardening and doing housework, as well as activities like swimming, playing sport and going to a gym.

When you’re being active, pace yourself so you don’t get tired too quickly, and use breathing control to help.

Aim to be as independent as you can. This helps keep you active. If you get breathless doing things like washing, dressing or cooking an occupational therapist may be able to help. They can give you information and equipment to make tasks easier. If you think this could benefit you, ask your GP to refer you to an occupational therapist.

Read more about keeping active with a lung condition.

Remember: getting out of breath when you’re active is good for you!

Top tips for living well with breathlessness

  • Plan your day in advance and pace yourself to make sure you have plenty of opportunities to rest.
  • Break down your activities into smaller tasks that are more manageable.
  • Find simple ways to cook, clean and do other chores. You could use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around your home, and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things.
  • Use a towelling robe after showering or bathing, as you’ll use less energy than drying off with a towel.
  • Hold a handheld battery fan near your face (about 6 inches) – this should help you feel less breathless.
  • Put items that you use frequently in easy-to-reach places.
  • Keep your clothes loose, and wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
  • Use a wheeled walking frame with a seat to help you be more active.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.
  • Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to do things. Try to recognise the things you are achieving.

Support for carers

It can be distressing seeing someone you care for struggling to breathe. And when they feel breathless, it can be hard to do everyday things and to keep active. You can read more about caring for someone who gets breathless in our information for carers.

You can also get support from Supporting Breathlessness.

Researchers from Hull York Medical School are looking into breathlessness to positively impact the lives of people living with it. You can read more about how breathlessness affects people’s lives on their website.

Next: Sex and breathlessness

Download our breathlessness information (PDF, 582KB)

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Download our breathlessness information (PDF, 582KB)

Last medically reviewed: November 2020. Due for review: November 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.