Research suggests that exercise therapy can help clear mucus blockages from the airways and improve lung health in those with cystic fibrosis. Beneficial activity may include resistance exercise, stretching, and cardiovascular exercise.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) causes unusually thick mucus to form in the lungs and other organs. Regular physical activity may benefit people with CF by increasing energy levels and improving lung function.

This article explains whether exercise can help people with CF, outlines the best and worst types of exercise, and offers some general tips for exercising with CF.

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CF causes an accumulation of thick mucus in the respiratory tract. This results in a gradual loss of lung function over time.

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), regular exercise offers the following benefits for people with CF:

As such, the CFF recommends that people with CF:

  • aim to exercise for at least 3 or 4 days per week at a comfortable intensity that allows them to talk during the activity
  • take regular rest intervals during exercise
  • talk with their CF team and a physiotherapist to find an exercise routine that meets their needs

A 2021 research article suggests that the best types of exercise for people with CF are enjoyable exercises that are easily accessible, such as those that people can do at home.

Below are some types of exercise that may benefit people with CF.

Resistance exercises

Resistance exercises increase muscle strength and bone health using weights, elastic bands, or calisthenics. Calisthenic exercises involve resisting the body’s own weight. Examples include:

When performing resistance exercises, people should consider the following:

  • Exercise intensity: This refers to the amount of weight, or “resistance,” that a person can exercise against. A person’s care team can conduct a resistance exercise fitness test to help them establish an appropriate exercise intensity.
  • Number of repetitions: This is the number of times a person performs a particular exercise at a specific intensity.
  • Duration and frequency: This will depend on a person’s fitness levels and exercise goals.

As the CFF explains, a person can increase their exercise dose by exercising at a higher intensity while keeping exercise duration and frequency constant or exercising for longer durations or more frequent intervals while keeping exercise intensity constant.

Read more about progressive calisthenics workout plans.


Stretching before and after exercise helps maintain muscle flexibility, reduce the risk of muscle injury, and aid muscle recovery.

The CFF adds that upper body stretches can improve flexibility in the shoulders and trunk, which can help with the following:

  • improving posture
  • preventing pain
  • easing breathing

The following activities incorporate a range of stretching exercises:

Cardiovascular exercises

Cardiovascular exercise is any vigorous activity that increases heart and respiration rates and boosts blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body.

The United Kingdom’s Cystic Fibrosis Trust (CFT) notes that this type of exercise is important for heart and lung function. Some exercises to consider include:

Simple activities

The CFF outlines the following simple activities that people can incorporate into their daily routine:

  • choosing the stairs instead of taking the elevator
  • walking to the mall
  • parking farther from the store entrance
  • walking a dog
  • dancing to music

A 2021 research article suggests that the most significant barriers to exercise for people with CF are exercise-related confidence, poor weather, time, and low energy levels.

Therefore, people with CF may wish to avoid overly strenuous exercises, exercise types they do not enjoy, or exercises requiring a shared space or travel, such as gym programs.

A 2022 article also suggests that complex anaerobic exercises may be challenging for some people with CF, such as those with advanced stage CF. Alternatives, such as resistance exercises with guided weight machines, may be more beneficial.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital notes that the following sports may not be suitable for children with CF:

  • scuba diving
  • sky diving
  • bungee jumping
  • mountain climbing and other high intensity activities at high altitudes
  • contact sports, if the child has an enlarged spleen or liver

People can speak with their doctor for tailored advice about which exercises they may be best to avoid.

While regular exercise can benefit people with CF, the condition can cause respiratory symptoms that make exercising difficult, such as:

To prevent this, people with CF should try to build up to exercise slowly. People can work with their healthcare team to create an exercise plan that considers their current fitness levels and exercise goals.

The CFF outlines some additional tips on how to stay safe while exercising with CF. The organization suggests:

  • staying hydrated, since people with CF have a higher risk of dehydration
  • discussing underlying conditions of CF complications with a doctor
  • modifying the exercise program when necessary
  • monitoring blood glucose

People may also find it easier to maintain motivation to exercise by choosing exercises they enjoy and can do at home.

Helping a child with cystic fibrosis to exercise

To help a child with CF exercise, the CFF suggests making exercise fun and social. This may involve learning what types of activities a child enjoys the most.

Setting small, achievable goals may also help boost a child’s motivation to exercise.

It is typical for a child with CF to cough during exercise. Encouraging the child to perform huff coughs during and after exercise can help clear mucus from the lungs.

However, if coughing becomes a concern, a person can talk with a doctor to see if their child can use an asthma inhaler before exercising.

People should also provide plenty of fluids when children with CF are exercising to help prevent dehydration.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a condition that causes a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs and other organs. Regular exercise can help clear mucus from the lungs, improve lung function, and increase energy levels.

People with CF should work with their CF team or a physical therapist to create an exercise plan. These healthcare professionals may recommend an initial fitness test to help establish the person’s exercise capabilities.

People with CF may need to pay particular attention to their hydration levels. Anyone with CF complications or other underlying conditions should talk with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.