Keeping active with a lung condition

How will being active affect my breathing?

Many people find it surprising, but getting breathless when you’re active is good for you! On this page we’ll explain how being active strengthens your muscles and makes you fitter. We have some useful breathing techniques to help you cope.

On this page:


What happens if I’m not active?

If you avoid activities that make you breathless, your muscles become weaker. Weaker muscles need more oxygen to work. Over time you feel more and more breathless. This is called the cycle of inactivity, or the cycle of breathlessness.

Vicious cycle of inactivity


How can being active help my breathing?

The good news is that you can break this cycle of inactivity. By becoming more active you can make your muscles stronger, including your breathing muscles. This will help you feel less out of breath when you do everyday tasks. 

breaking the vicious cycle of inactivity


How can I cope with getting breathless?

It’s normal to get breathless when you’re active, but if you have a lung condition, you may feel anxious about it. If you panic, it can make you feel even more breathless. The key is to stay calm and learn ways to manage your breathlessness. 

Useful breathing techniques

  • Blow as you go: Use this when doing an action that takes a lot of effort, like standing up or lifting. Breathe in before the action, then breathe out while you’re making the big effort.
  • Pursed-lips breathing: Breathe out with your lips pursed as if you were whistling. This helps you to empty the air from your lungs. 
  • Paced breathing: Pace your breathing so it’s in time with your steps. For example, take two steps for every breath in and three steps for every breath out. Find the pace that works for you.
  • Relaxed slow deep breathing: This is a useful technique at the start of an activity, and sometimes at the end. Slow down your breathing, taking deep breaths. Breathe through your nose if you can.

Try this breathing exercise to help manage anxiety

  • Breathe in gently through your nose for the count of 4. Let your tummy rise as you breathe in). 
  • Hold it for 2
  • Breathe out (through your mouth with a whoosh) for 5 or longer if you can.

There’s more information on these breathing techniques and how to do them, in our exercise handbook . You can also see them demonstrated in our exercise video.

If you start to feel too out of breath, a recovery position might help. Stand 30cm away from a wall with your feet slightly apart. Lean back or sideways against the wall and let your hands hang by your sides, or rest your thumbs in your waistband. 

You might also want to try the other recovery positions shown below.

Positions you can use to recover from breathlessness

Depending on your lung condition, there are different breathing techniques and positions you could use. Speak to a physiotherapist to find out what’s best for you.

Can steam help my breathing?

Some people find that breathing in steam can help clear the airways. You could do this in the shower, or using a ‘steam cup inhaler’.

But take care. Unclean steam cups or steam rooms can be harmful, especially for people with bronchiectasis. That’s because they may harbour bacteria such as Non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection (NTM)

More information

Read more about breathing techniques and helpful positions for COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care also has patient information leaflets.

Next: How active should I aim to be? >

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