We all know about the benefits of exercise and try our best to incorporate it into our lives. While engaging in physical activity is difficult when living with a chronic lung condition, doctors and physical therapists recommend that those with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) stay as active as possible. I know that exercise is important, but I struggle with finding and maintaining an exercise routine that is not overly demanding or exhausting for me.
I recently wrote a column about how I am managing increased breathlessness. While a chest X-ray revealed some “fuzziness,” that appears to have cleared after a low dose of prednisone. Thankfully, I don’t have a virus or bacterial infection, but I still wonder what might be causing this shortness of breath.
I spoke to my transplant coordinator about my challenges, and she advised me to enroll in a course of pulmonary rehabilitation. While I haven’t started the program yet, I have been evaluated by my physical therapist. We’ve worked out an exercise regimen that I can do at home to strengthen my lungs and the muscles surrounding them.
Exercising with poor lung function is incredibly difficult, and it feels counterproductive to exercise to relieve my shortness of breath. However, I hope that my new routine will better manage my symptoms long term. While I am willing to do anything to maintain my current lung function, I find exercise extremely challenging for several reasons, apart from the obvious one of feeling breathless.
Here are some of the ways I encourage myself to exercise:
- Pacing with intervals: Before my IPF diagnosis, I enjoyed jogging and would challenge myself by extending my distance goals. While my abilities have drastically changed, I find playing mind games with myself helps to increase the length of time I can exercise overall. For example, I set targets to walk at specific speeds on the treadmill and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I can last longer at a faster pace. I add one extra minute incrementally and celebrate when I’ve achieved more than I had initially expected. I come from a competitive family, so completing a task I’ve set for myself, even if it is just in my mind, is satisfying.
- Focus on something else: I’ve employed the tactic of distraction lately. Otherwise, I’ll watch the clock or timer while working out. I’ve been bringing my iPad to the treadmill and watching half an episode of my favorite TV show while walking — it helps the time go faster.
- Mind over matter: This is easier said than done, especially when it comes to accomplishing something that I don’t enjoy. I often reward myself for my efforts, so if I achieve the exercise goals I’ve set on a specified number of nights per week, then I allow myself to spend more time on enjoyable activities. My strategy is similar to a child’s reward system and tends to work for me.
- Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated quenches my thirst while exercising and helps me avoid muscle injuries while being active. I experience stiff muscles and joints due to my diagnosis, so additional post-exercise pain can lead to an unwillingness to engage in any physical activity.
- Schedule exercise: Because of the physical fatigue and breathlessness that exercising can cause for those living with IPF, it’s nearly impossible to exercise sporadically. Scheduling exercise around other activities can help ensure that it gets done. I rarely plan a walk on my treadmill when I still have household chores to do or before I’ve finished other tasks at the end of a day.
Do you have any tips to help make exercise a little easier for IPF/PF patients?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.