Exercise and Lung Health

1. Deteriorating circumstances. Individuals who have lung disease often feel that it is impossible to exercise because they suffer from muscle weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. When they try to exercise, they get discouraged and stop working out when they get short of breath. In reality, their subsequent inactivity only makes their symptoms worse.

2. Confronting the challenged. Among the numerous health benefits of exercise is helping the heart and lungs work better. For example, exercising on a regular basis enables the muscles to become more efficient, which, in turn, allows them to perform the same amount of work with less oxygen.

3. Stepping out. Walking is an appropriate exercise activity for individuals with lung disease who want to initiate a physical activity program. It’s relatively easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, can be performed almost anywhere (indoor or outdoor), and doesn’t place undue stress on the exerciser’s musculoskeletal system.

4. Training the lungs. Individuals with lung disease should try to breathe deeply as they exercise. All factors considered, increasing the amount of oxygen taken into the lungs would enhance the training impact on the respiratory muscles. In fact, to the extent possible, they should attempt to breathe out twice as long as they breathe in. At no time should they hold their breath.

5. Keeping things in perspective. Being short of breath while working out should not be perceived as unduly harmful. More often than not, it is merely a signal that the lungs are working hard. On the other hand, individuals with lung disease should stop and relax for a few moments before continuing if they feel too tired or if they experience shortness of breath while exercising.

6. Being mindful. Individuals with lung disease who choose to exercise outdoors should be aware of the quality of the air they breathe (as anyone who exercises outdoor should), particularly on days when high levels of ozone ‘‘smog’’ are in the air. Ozone smog exacerbates the breathing problems of people with poor lung health.

7. Keeping a respectful distance. Individuals with lung disease should avoid exercising near congested highways because they are particularly susceptible to the adverse affects of air pollution. As a rule of thumb, they should try to stay 30 to 50 feet away from any car whose motor is running (stationary or in transit).

8. Lessening the difficulty. Individuals with inhaled allergies should try to reduce their exposure to allergy triggers (e.g., dust, dust mites, pollens, animal dander, air pollutants, etc.). Such triggers can make exercise more difficult for these people. For example, these individuals should avoid engaging in outdoor activities before midmorning, when pollen counts are typically at their highest.

9. Planning ahead. Asthma sufferers should consult with their doctor and determine if a preventive dose of medication should be taken before they engage in physical activity. As such, individuals with asthma should premedicate if their physician believes it is appropriate for them to do so.

10. Engaging the part of the brain that controls common sense. Like their healthy counterparts, the exercise-related advice for individuals with lung disease is fairly straightforward: use common sense, make a commitment to exercise on a regular basis, set and strive to attain reasonable goals, listen to the body, and always try to adhere to the ‘‘minimum effective dose’’ principle.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

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