Can You Exercise When You Have Bronchiectasis?

Woman living with bronchiectasis doing strength training exercise.

Staying healthy has been at the top of everyone’s mind this past year. And many of us already know that the path to healthy living, especially as we age, is keeping active in our daily routine.  

As we get older, our bodies depend on us to engage in physical exercise to help build muscle mass and improve flexibility and endurance. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who workout regularly can enjoy up to 7 health benefits that include, among others, improving your mood, energy, sleep, and weight management[1].

Harvard Health Publishing reports that moderate exercise can also help boost your memory and thinking skills[2]. The American Lung Association states that exercise can help reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, as well as certain forms of cancer[3].

So, experts agree that keeping active plays an essential role in your health and wellness as you age. But what if working out is harder for you to achieve, due to a chronic lung condition?

If you’re living with bronchiectasis—a serious lung disease that causes airways to slowly lose their ability to mobilize and clear mucus—you may find moderate, daily exercise more challenging than others. 

Why Does Bronchiectasis Make Working Out Feel Strenuous?

In addition to creating mucus buildup that leads to bacteria in the lungs and recurring infections, other symptoms of bronchiectasis can include:

Since the lungs and heart need to work together to supply your muscles more oxygen during physical exercise, you might worry that having bronchiectasis means you can’t participate in certain activities that will provide you all the health benefits your body needs. 

But the truth is, exercise can actually strengthen your lungs[4], even if you’re living with bronchiectasis

Two women doing yoga stretch.What Exercise is Good for Bronchiectasis?

According to the American Lung Association, both aerobic and resistance-training activities can help improve your lungs, making them stronger and able to perform the task of transferring additional oxygen to other muscles during exercise[5]. 

Below are a few moderate exercises that they recommend to help you maintain a healthy fitness routine. They also recommend that you engage in physical activity for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. 

 As with all types of exercise, you’ll want to first consult with your clinician before attempting any of the following bronchiectasis exercises.

Graphic icon of person in yoga pose. Pilates or Yoga

There’s many benefits to pilates, including its focus on your core muscles and controlled breathing. Pilates or yoga can be performed and modified to any skill level—allowing you to improve your posture and practice your breathing exercises, such as Belly Breathing, which helps train your diaphragm to take slower, deeper breaths[6]. 

Walking or Running

Graphic icon of person walking up steps.There are many health benefits to walking, and depending on where you live, this might be the best option to ensure you enjoy some physical exercise, as well as receive fresh air and sunshine throughout the day. Walking can help improve breathing, too, as the more you strengthen your muscles (e.g., lungs and heart) the less oxygen they require, which means they don’t need to work as hard[7].

Running offers the same benefits as walking, as it builds stronger muscles that require less strain on your lungs to transfer oxygen: “Strong and healthy muscles require less oxygen to operate. This helps reduce stress off your lungs, which are responsible for introducing oxygen into your bloodstream”[8].

Weight Lifting or Strength Training

Graphic icon of person holding weight.As with pilates, weight lifting or resistance training can help you build muscle and focus on your breathing. As we age, our bodies naturally lose muscle mass, so it’s important to help build muscle to reverse this loss and strengthen our bodies: “Some types of exercise can also strengthen the muscles of the neck and chest, including the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs that work together to power inhaling and exhaling”[9].

Is Regular Exercise a Part of Your Bronchiectasis Treatment?

Because bronchiectasis is an individual condition—meaning everyone will experience its symptoms differently—it’s important to talk to your doctor about which exercise is best for you!

Your doctor may recommend other aerobic activities, such as swimming, bicycling, rowing, or using an elliptical trainer. The best part about exercise is you can always mix it up to keep it fun while still building your muscles and strengthening your lungs. 

If you’re living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), check out our article on the benefits of exercise for COPD. Remember to follow our blog for more bronchiectasis and COPD resources to help you feel empowered and stay connected to our community.

 

 


Resources:

[1] Mayo Clinic. “Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

[2] Harvard Health Publishing. “Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills

[3] American Lung Association. “Exercise and Lung Health.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health#:~:text=When%20you%20are%20physically%20active,your%20lungs%20and%20heart%20stronger.

[4] American Lung Association. “Exercise and Lung Health.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health#:~:text=When%20you%20are%20physically%20active,your%20lungs%20and%20heart%20stronger.

[5] American Lung Association. “Exercise and Lung Health.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health#:~:text=When%20you%20are%20physically%20active,your%20lungs%20and%20heart%20stronger.

[6] American Lung Association. “Breathing Exercises.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises 

[7] Lung Health Institute. “Is Walking Good for COPD?” Retrieved from https://lunginstitute.com/blog/is-walking-good-for-copd/

[8] Lung Health Institute. “Is Running Good for Your Lungs When You Have COPD?” Retrieved from https://lunginstitute.com/blog/is-running-good-for-your-lungs-when-you-have-copd/

[9] American Lung Association. “Exercise and Lung Health.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health#:~:text=When%20you%20are%20physically%20active,your%20lungs%20and%20heart%20stronger.

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