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Exercise for People with Cystic Fibrosis

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week spotlights the importance of respiratory therapists and pulmonary rehabilitation programs in improving the health outcomes and quality of life for patients with chronic lung disease. These programs can include breathing retraining, education, and counseling. Often, an important aspect of these programs is carefully managed physical exercise. Read on to learn about the value of exercising with COPD and how to talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program for you.

 Exercising with Supplemental Oxygen

What is Cystic Fibrosis?

A progressive, genetic disease in which certain cells produce too many secretions, causing lung infections and breathing difficulty. Cystic fibrosis occurs when epithelial cells, the cells lining the lungs and airways, have a mutated protein that produces abnormally viscous mucus. Coughing and frequent chest and sinus infections are common symptoms, and serious cardiorespiratory complications can ensue. These include inflammation of the lungs and airways, hypoxia, coughing up blood, pulmonary hypertension, respiratory and cardiac failure, and susceptibility to lung diseases and bacterial infections.


Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month Exercising

What Can Exercise Do for Cystic Fibrosis Patients?

If you have cystic fibrosis or any other chronic lung disease, it's vital that you speak with your healthcare provider about starting an exercise program, as they can help you find a program that fits your needs and physical condition. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits:

  • Improvement in cystic fibrosis symptoms.
  • Improved circulation and better oxygen utilization.
  • Clearance of mucus from lungs, leading to easier breathing.
  • Slow the rate of lung function decline.
  • Stronger respiratory muscles.
  • Stronger cardiovascular health.
  • Better quality sleep.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduced body fat.
  • Increased energy and endurance.
  • Increased strength and muscle tone.
  • Improved joint strength and flexibility.
  • Improved balance.
  • Stronger bones.
  • Stress relief as well as relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Improved morale and self-image.

Exercising for Lung Health with COPD

Types of Exercise for People with Cystic Fibrosis and Other Respiratory Diseases

There are 3 basic types of exercise, all with benefits for people with CF and other progressive or chronic lung diseases:

  1. Stretching: Improves flexibility and helps you warm up while preventing muscle strain and injury. Can also include mindfulness exercises like yoga and Tai Chi.
  2. Aerobic: Heart-healthy exercise that improves circulation, lung and heart strength, and oxygen utilization. Includes exercises like walking, biking, and swimming.
  3. Resistance or Strength Training: Builds muscle strength and mass through repeated muscle contractions, often using a resisting force like a taut band or weight. Upper body strength training an be especially useful for chronic lung disease patients by increasing respiratory muscle strength.

Oxygen Levels During Exercise

Tips for Exercising with Cystic Fibrosis and Other Respiratory Conditions

When embarking on an exercise program, you'll want to ask your doctor a lot of questions about working out most safely and effectively with your respiratory condition. You may have questions about:

  • Using supplemental oxygen: You should exercise with it, and your doctor may adjust your flow rate for physical activity.
  • Where to exercise: This can include any location from your home to a local gym or fitness center. Ask your doctor for suggestions based on your needs.
  • Sticking to a regular routine: It helps to set achievable daily goals, modify activities you enjoyed before developing your disease, and get in as much physical activity, however minor, during the course of your normal daily routine.
  • Appropriate exercises: Your doctor can help you develop a program or recommend you to a specialist (respiratory or physical therapist, exercise physiologist, or personal trainer) who can design a program for you.


Breathing effectively is important during physical activity. Remember to:

  • Inhale (breathe in) before starting an exercise motion and exhale (breathe out) during the most difficult part of an exercise.
  • Take slow breaths and pace yourself.
  • Purse your lips while breathing out.

Please consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional before stopping or starting any medications, supplements, or health regimens.