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, you may simply be out of shape. 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 forms of shortness of breath, but if your symptoms are severe you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Exercise can help alleviate age-related shortness of breath. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Improving Cardio Fitness

Cardiovascular exercise can help prevent shortness of breath because it strengthens your heart, lungs and circulatory system. As “Exercise and Sport Science” explains, cardio affects 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, meaning more oxygen gets to your heart and bloodstream, preventing shortness of breath due to low oxygen.


Exercise can also help combat shortness of breath by improving muscle strength and endurance. “The Everest Principle: How to Achieve the Summit of Your Life” notes that good posture lengthens your muscles and opens up your lungs, allowing you to breathe more freely. When you are fatigued, however, you are more likely to slouch, which inhibits the flow of air to your lungs. Regular exercise builds strength and encourages you to keep your spine straight and head high, opening your chest and boosting your lung capacity.


Chronic illnesses like asthma are common causes of shortness of breath and exercise can be very beneficial in treating the symptoms, according to “Asthma In Focus.” Though asthma sufferers need to take extra precautions, such as warming up gently, and having an inhaler with them during exercise, the benefits outweigh any risks, as the challenge of cardiovascular exercise will improve lung capacity and elasticity, and prevent patients from suffering shortness of breath due to poor 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 “Physiology of Sport and Exercise.” Your circulatory system also weakens, meaning you may be more liable to suffer shortness of breath. Exercise cannot totally reverse the effects of aging, but 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.

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