Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia

Exercising with Chronic Lung Disease: Taking the First Steps

Exercise has helped thousands of people with chronic lung disease gain more control over their lives. It can help you, too! You’ll get started in pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab). The pulmonary rehab team will help you set safe, realistic goals. To have lasting results, exercise has to be a lifelong commitment. This means you must keep up with it even after your pulmonary rehab program has ended.

Assessing Your Needs

Before you start exercising, the pulmonary rehab team will assess your needs. You will be asked about your health history and symptoms. If you have joint pain or any other health problems, be sure to discuss them with the team. This lets the pulmonary rehab team make sure you are safe and comfortable during exercise.

Woman walking in hallway. Healthcare provider is writing on chart.

How Far Can You Go?

The pulmonary rehab team needs to know how much you can safely do right now. To find out, you may have a 6-minute timed-distance walk test. This is not a race. It involves walking on a flat surface, such as a hallway or short track. The test shows how far you can walk in 6 minutes, and what symptoms occur. A team member will ask about your shortness of breath and if you are in any pain. Your heart rate will be checked, too. During the test, you can stop and rest if you need to. Once you catch your breath, keep going.

Your Oxygen Levels

A pulse oximeter is a small instrument that measures the oxygen in your blood. It’s attached to a small probe that slips over your finger. The oxygen in your blood will be measured before, during, and after your walk test. This shows if oxygen needs to be prescribed. You may need oxygen during exercise even if you don’t use it at other times. If you already use oxygen, you may need a different flow rate during exercise.

An Exercise Program Just for You

You’ll follow an exercise program that’s been specially designed for people with chronic lung disease. This program will be tailored to your own needs. In other words, it’s an exercise program just for you. And you’ll have support every step of the way.

  • Starting out: The staff will help you get started slowly and safely. With each exercise session, you’ll do a little more than you did the time before.

  • In the long run: You’ll probably work up to about 30–60 minutes of exercise a day, most days of the week. You’ll likely be exercising at the pulmonary rehab facility as well as at home.

Achieving Your Goals

Exercise will be most rewarding if you’re working toward a goal. Sometimes it helps to break up big goals into smaller ones. Say your long-term goal is to play a round of golf. To approach this, you could start with a smaller goal of hitting a bucket of balls. When you’ve mastered that goal, you could move on to playing a few holes. Each time you meet a smaller goal, you’re one step closer to meeting the big one.

What’s Stopping Me?

It’s easy to think of reasons why exercise is hard. Try to face your fears and excuses head-on. What’s stopping you from exercising? Write down anything that comes to mind. For each, try to think of at least 2 possible solutions.


  • What’s stopping me: Fear of becoming short of breath.

  • Possible solutions: Do pursed-lip breathing during exercise. Stop and rest when I need to.

What’s stopping me: _________________________________________________

Possible solutions: _____________________________________________________

What’s stopping me: _________________________________________________

Possible solutions: _____________________________________________________


Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 1/15/2007
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library