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Keeping active with a lung condition

How active should I aim to be?

Any activity is better than none. On this page, we’ll explain how much exercise you should aim to do, and which kinds of activities will benefit you.

On this page:

How much exercise should I do?

If possible, we should aim to be active every day. Any activity is better than none. Even one minute of activity can benefit your health. 

The UK government recommends how active we should be. If you’re not very active at the moment, the recommendations below might seem overwhelming. But by starting small and working up, you can still have a positive impact on your health. 

Over time, your fitness will increase and you’ll be able to do more.

What kinds of activity should I aim to do?

Sit less

This is one of the biggest changes you can make. Try to break up long periods of sitting and increase the number of steps you take every day. Research suggests that just 1,000 more steps a day can make a difference. Why not track your daily steps using a smartphone or pedometer? You could set yourself an achievable target to aim for, for example 5,000 steps a day. When you hit your target, you can increase the number and set yourself a new challenge.

Aerobic activity

Every week, try to do at least 150 minutes of activities like brisk walking, dancing, gardening and housework. That works out at about 20 minutes a day. These aerobic activities work your heart and lungs. Your body warms up, your heart beats faster and your breathing is quicker and deeper than normal. Aim to get moderately out of breath – use the talk test to check you’re working at the right level.

Strengthening activity

To get less breathless, strong muscles matter. With strong muscles in your legs and arms, you can do more with the oxygen you breathe in. If your body is weak, it needs more oxygen to do the same tasks.

Aim to do activities that improve your muscle strength at least twice a week. You can fit this into your daily life, for example by carrying shopping bags. You could also do yoga or use weights

Activities that strengthen the muscles in the front of your thigh (your quadriceps) are really useful. They will help you do things like get up from a chair and avoid falls. Climbing stairs and using an exercise bike are two activities that can help strengthen your quads.

Improving coordination and balance

If you’re older or at risk of falling, include some activities that improve coordination, balance and flexibility at least one day a week. For example, dance, tai chi, yoga and bowls

Working at the right level for me

When you’re active, you want to get moderately out of breath, but not too much. Check you’re exerting yourself the right amount using the talk test

The talk test

Say out loud: “This activity is going to do me good!”

  • If you can say the sentence with two or three stops for breath, you’re working at a moderate intensity. This is your aim.
  • If you can say the whole sentence without stopping, you can increase the intensity.
  • If you can’t speak, or can’t say more than one word at a time, you may want to slow down.

If you’re worried about figuring out the right level for you, speak to your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist. If they say that physical activity isn’t suitable for you at the moment, ask about other things that might help improve your quality of life. 

'I do still get out of breath, but that’s good! You just need to learn how to recover and how much exercise is good for you, or how much is too much.' Margaret, who has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

How can I keep safe when I’m active?

It’s important to look after yourself while you’re being active.

  • Start slowly and gradually build up
  • Warm up before and cool down after your exercise
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing and supportive non-slip shoes
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Wait for at least an hour after eating before starting to exercise
  • Have your reliever inhaler with you when you exercise
  • Take your inhaler 5-20 minutes before starting, if exercise makes your chest tight or wheezy
  • If you normally use oxygen, even for just some of the time or overnight, you can use it at your regular setting when exercising. 
  • Be active at a level that’s right for you – use the talk test above to check

For patients with diagnosed heart problems: If you have a glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) spray, have it with you when you exercise. 

STOP if you get any sudden symptoms, such as: 

  • chest pain or tightness
  • feeling dizzy, nauseous, clammy or cold
  • feeling increasingly wheezy
  • getting sore joints or muscle weakness. 

Get advice from your GP or health care professional if you get any of these symptoms. In an emergency, call 999.

Next: What activities could I do? >

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Download our keep active information (PDF, 160KB)

Last medically reviewed: August 2020. Due for review: August 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.