If you have pulmonary fibrosis, even activities of daily living, such as showering and doing housework, may leave you short of breath. Because of the breathlessness, exercise may not be on the top of your to-do list. In fact, some people with PF may avoid physical activities as much as possible to prevent air hunger. But exercise can be beneficial for people living with pulmonary fibrosis.
Exercise Benefits for People with Pulmonary Fibrosis
Although exercise will not repair damaged lung tissue, it can have several benefits for people with pulmonary fibrosis. Exercise can have both physical and emotional benefits, such as:
- Improved cardiovascular health: Aerobic exercise can strengthen your heart. The stronger your heart is, the more efficiently it pumps blood throughout your body and utilizes the oxygen available.
- More energy: It might seem logical that exercise would only increase your fatigue when you have pulmonary fibrosis. But moderate exercise can have the opposite effect and help you feel more energetic.
- Improves muscle strength: Exercise can also improve muscle strength, which can decrease fatigue and make it easier to complete certain tasks.
- Improved mood: Exercise may increase the production of endorphins, which are a natural mood booster. Exercise can also help combat stress.
- A sense of accomplishment: When someone has a chronic disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis, it’s common to feel a loss of control. Your body may not respond how it used to, which is difficult to accept. Exercise can give you a sense of accomplishment and control.
Components of an Exercise Program
An exercise program for people with pulmonary fibrosis should include aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Aerobic exercise can include activities which increase your heart rate, such as the treadmill, stationary bike or upper body cycle aerometry. Strength training can be done with hand weights, resistance tubing and weight machines. Flexibility exercises include stretches to increase your range of motion.
Tips for Exercising with Pulmonary Fibrosis
Like most things in life, you can get too much of a good thing. Light to moderate exercise that does not cause your symptoms to become worse is beneficial, but overdoing it is not helpful. It’s also important to consider the following:
Get the green light from your pulmonologist: Although exercise is usually safe for people with pulmonary fibrosis, it’s always best to talk with your pulmonologist. There may be some circumstances in which you should avoid certain types of exercise or limit what you do.
Progress slowly: Slow and steady is best. Increase your exercise intensity and duration gradually. Also, do what you can when you can. On days you feel stronger, do a little more. But it’s also essential to listen to your body. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a day when you can’t do as much.
Consider a Pulmonary rehabilitation program: Although exercising at a fitness center or going for a daily walk may work for some people, an exercise program specifically for people with lung disease may be your best option. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are often run by respiratory therapists and exercise physiologists who are experienced working with people with chronic lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis.
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs usually combine instructor-led exercises classes with education on living with lung diseases. During exercise sessions, your symptoms, heart rate and oxygen levels will be monitored to alert your instructors to any problems.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is an excellent way to learn more about your condition. The more information you have, the better you can manage pulmonary fibrosis. If you’re interested in locating a pulmonary rehabilitation class near you, talk to your pulmonologist.
MaryAnn DePietro, B.S. CRT is a medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience. She earned degrees in both respiratory therapy and rehabilitation and currently works in a pulmonary rehabilitation program in California.