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What Exercises Do You Do to Reverse Lung Damage?

author image Melissa Sabo
Melissa Sabo is an occupational therapist who started writing professional guidebooks for all Flagship Rehabilitation employees in 2009. Specializing in applied therapy and exercise for non-medical readers, she also coauthored a manual on wheelchair positioning. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy.
What Exercises Do You Do to Reverse Lung Damage?
Chest X-ray Photo Credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images

Unfortunately, you cannot reverse lung damage through exercise. Exercise can, however, improve the function of related body systems, which can improve your endurance and respiratory function. Using alternate strategies during daily activities can help you to compensate further for any respiratory deficits. Consult with your doctor or therapist prior to starting any exercise program, as you may be too weak to initiate exercise or may require therapy and cardiovascular rehabilitation first.

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Group of people exercising indoors.
Group of people exercising indoors. Photo Credit: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Once your lungs have been damaged, you will have increased shortness of breath and may experience severe fatigue. You may even struggle to perform even the simplest tasks, such as brushing your teeth. The lung's major function is to take the carbon dioxide from your blood and replace it with oxygen, and your blood then travels all through your body to exchange these gases in your muscles. By adding appropriate exercise to your daily routine, you can improve your blood circulation. Improved circulation will enable your body to exchange as much oxygen and carbon dioxide as possible with your muscle tissues to optimize the impaired output of your lungs.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Woman stretching outdoors in yoga clothing.
Woman stretching outdoors in yoga clothing. Photo Credit: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Although adequate oxygenation is vital to functioning, equally important is the level of carbon dioxide in you blood. When your carbon dioxide levels are too high, you can feel fatigued and can build up additional lactic acid in your muscles, which can make you feel sore all over. When completing any difficult task or when exercising, develop the habit of using pursed-lip breathing. Breath in slowly and deeply, attempting to fill your lungs completely. Then, very slowly exhale with your lips pursed into a small opening, as if you were blowing out a birthday cake full of candles. Repeat this breathing until you no longer feel fatigued or short of breath.

Range of Motion

Family outdoors with arms raised up overhead.
Family outdoors with arms raised up overhead. Photo Credit: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

In your initial phase of recovery, you will likely be able to tolerate only mild range of motion exercises. Any time you raise your arms over your head, you will begin an aerobic activity, and this will tax your lungs significantly. Gradually increase the number of repetitions you can complete without a break to increase your endurance and strength.

Endurance Training

Photo Credit: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Once your condition stabilizes, begin endurance training to improve your overall function. Use an arm bike, a leg bike, a treadmill or an elliptical, and move slowly at first. Monitor your heart rate throughout to make sure you have not raised it more than 20 beats per minute above your resting heart rate, which you should obtain just before you start the exercise. Use a pulse oximeter to keep track of your oxygen levels, making sure to maintain oxygen saturation of 90 percent or higher to avoid brain damage and other complications associated with low oxygen levels. You should notice that you can participate in these activities for longer periods of time without rest as you improve your cardiovascular status. Perform a five-minute warmup and cooldown to transition your body in and out of the exercise and protect your heart.

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