Can Exercise Help With Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath can range from the merely uncomfortable to the potentially dangerous. If you have found yourself gasping for breath after climbing a few flights of stairs or while carrying heavy packages, your lack of exercise and shortness of breath are probably connected.

Regular exercise can improve breathing and endurance. (Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/GettyImages)

If, however, you suffer shortness of breath while sedentary or wake up at night struggling to breathe, it can indicate an underlying health problem. Cardiovascular exercise can help with many shortness of breath causes. But if your symptoms are severe, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.


Even if you have an underlying health condition, working out can be combined with prescription therapy, inhalers and other shortness of breath treatment options.

Cardio Exercise and Shortness of Breath

Cardiovascular exercise helps prevent shortness of breath because it strengthens your heart, lungs and circulatory system. According to the American Heart Association, endurance workouts positively affect your body in several ways. First, your lung capacity increases due to exercise, meaning you draw in more air.

Second, your body adapts to the demands of exercise by transporting oxygen more efficiently. That means that more oxygen gets to your heart and bloodstream, preventing shortness of breath due to low oxygen.

Work Out for Posture Improvement

Along with increasing your lung capacity, exercise is a key shortness of breath treatment for other reasons. Among them is the opportunity to improve muscle strength and endurance. Good posture improves breathing because it lengthens your muscles and opens up your lungs. When you're fatigued, however, you're more likely to slouch, which inhibits the flow of air to your lungs. Strengthening your core results in improved posture.

In turn, improved posture encourages you to keep your spine straight and head high, opening your chest and boosting your lung capacity. The posture connection to lung capacity is just one reason why exercise and shortness of breath are frequently mentioned "in the same breath," so to speak.

Use Caution With Asthma

Chronic illnesses like asthma are common shortness of breath causes. For many people with asthma, working out can initially bring on attacks. In fact, many asthma patients become sedentary, for fear of bringing on a severe attack. Yet in the long run, exercise can improve asthma symptoms.

Although patients need to take extra precautions during asthma workouts, such as warming up gently, and having an inhaler with them during exercise, for the majority of patients, the benefits outweigh any risks.

Performing cardiovascular exercise improves lung capacity and elasticity and prevents patients from suffering shortness of breath due to poor fitness. For this reason, even when a serious problem like asthma is a big reason that you can't get enough air, working out still represents a superior shortness of breath treatment. Of course, ask your doctor before undertaking any new fitness regimen.

Fight Aging Through Fitness

As you age, your lungs become less elastic, your breathing power wanes and you are not able to inhale or exhale as forcefully, according to the American Lung Association. Your circulatory system also weakens, meaning you may be more liable to suffer shortness of breath. Of course, exercise cannot totally reverse the effects of aging and their related shortness of breath causes.

Yet regular cardiovascular training can help maintain lung capacity and elasticity, and promote healthy circulation, which can prevent or even help reverse age-related shortness of breath. Ask your doctor if your lack of exercise and shortness of breath may be related, and the best workout plan for older beginners.

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