Bronchitis symptoms include a wet, phlegm-filled cough and difficulty breathing. But can people with bronchitis exercise without making their condition worse?

Some bronchitis symptoms may be exacerbated by exercise. However, if done carefully, regular physical activity is recommended for those recovering from acute bronchitis. Exercise may also be important in the management of chronic bronchitis.

For those with bronchitis symptoms, environmental factors, such as extreme heat and cold, increase the likelihood of breathing complications. If shortness of breath, wheezing, uncontrolled coughing or dizziness occur, exercise should be stopped.

This article explores bronchitis and exercise to help those with the condition understand what they can do, safely.

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Exercise may help to lessen some of the symptoms of bronchitis but there are factors to consider, such as the type of condition.

Exercise has many benefits for overall health and lung health, in particular.

During cardiovascular activity, muscles need more oxygen. This increases demand on the lungs to take in air, and the heart to circulate blood.

Muscles become stronger and more efficient with regular exercise, decreasing the amount of oxygen required for physical exertion.

When lung tissues are inflamed, the airways narrow and fill with mucus. This reduces oxygen intake during inhalation and carbon dioxide output during exhalation.

Normally, the diaphragm does most of the work required to fill and empty the lungs. It does this passively, exchanging air mixed with oxygen and gasses, in the space between it and lung tissues.

Over time, inflamed lung tissues become less flexible and do not return to their full form during exhalation, leaving behind stale air. The more stale air in this space, the less room there is for the diaphragm to contract and let in new air.

This increases the amount of work the lungs must do to maintain oxygen levels, making breathing more challenging.

If the lungs are compromised in any way, they may not be able to cope with the increased oxygen demand for physical exertion.

However, this depends on the extent of the narrowing and mucus content, which is why conditions, such as bronchitis, affect this process.

Exercise allows the muscles to become more efficient and use less oxygen. As such, it can help lessen some of the symptoms of bronchitis.

If a person is properly hydrated, exercise can also loosen nasal congestion and open the sinuses.

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Warming up, cooling down, and doing light cardiovascular exercise is recommended for exercise with both bronchitis types.

Exercises and considerations recommended for those recovering from acute bronchitis or with chronic bronchitis include:

  • gentle stretching exercises, such as yoga, avoiding downward or upside-down poses, as these encourage phlegm to travel upwards
  • cardiovascular exercises that promote light, continuous exertion, including walking or distance swimming
  • continuing everyday activities or hobbies if possible or as symptoms lessen, including housework, gardening, dog walks, or playing golf
  • following a steady, comfortable pace and not pushing it
  • warming up and cooling down after exercise, allowing breathing rate to increase slowly and return to normal
  • focusing on improving muscle strength to improve oxygen inefficiency and decrease demand on the lungs
  • focusing on the duration of exertion rather than the intensity
  • mindful breathing, paying attention to the length and frequency of breath
  • using a humidifier before exercising to help open the airways and loosen mucus
  • adjusting a workout to meet changes in weather or environmental conditions
  • taking as many breaks or rest periods as needed
  • drinking plenty of fluids while exercising
  • keeping in mind that it may take time, from weeks to months, to see significant results and return to normal routines
  • basing the intensity of workouts on what feels comfortable instead of other factors, such as heart rate or overheating

Exercise can help lessen the symptoms of bronchitis and speed up the recovery process, by improving muscle strength and oxygen efficiency.

But the oxygen levels demanded by physical exertion can exceed lung capabilities, especially when airways are compromised.

Exercise should be immediately stopped if shortness of breath is intense. A good rule to follow is that if a person no longer has enough airflow to talk, they have gone too far. Other symptoms that indicate exercise should be stopped immediately include:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • chest pain, especially a feeling similar to indigestion
  • uncomfortable increase in chest tightness
  • feeling faint or lightheaded
  • increase in body aches or pain
  • brownish, yellow-colored urine

Stamina should increase over time with consistent, progressively challenging exercise. If breathing problems continue to interfere with proper exercise, a doctor should be seen to reassess workout regimes or treatment plans.

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Tailored exercise may be recommended for people with additional health complications such as asthma, as this condition may intensify the symptoms of bronchitis.

Those with additional health complications often require more tailored exercise plans and supervision.

Conditions that may intensify the symptoms of bronchitis and alter exercise plans include:

Certain environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, and particles in the air may worsen bronchitis symptoms and increase the likelihood of problems during exercise.

Any time symptoms become severe, do not respond to treatment, or worsen after improving, then someone should speak to a doctor.