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!

Being active strengthens your muscles and increases your fitness. 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 vicious cycle of inactivity.

Vicious cycle of inactivity

The good news is that you can break this vicious 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.

If you start to feel too out of breath, this 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.

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.

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

Next: How active should I aim to be? >

Download our keeping active with a lung condition information (343KB, PDF) Order your keeping active with a lung condition information

Last medically reviewed: August 2017. Due for review: August 2020

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.