Best ways to exercise or workout with bronchitis in 2022

Best ways to exercise or workout with bronchitis in 2022

Best ways to exercise or workout with bronchitis in 2022

Best ways to exercise or workout with bronchitis in 2022

If you have acute bronchitis, a temporary condition, resting may be the best thing for you. If you have chronic bronchitis, a long-term condition, you may want to establish a go-to exercise program to count on for life.

Acute bronchitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes carry air to your lungs, so the infection can make it hard to breathe. Other symptoms include:

  • dry or phlegmy cough
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath

Acute bronchitis typically lasts from 3 to 10 days. It usually resolves without the need for antibiotics. However, you may have a lingering dry cough for several weeks due to the inflammation.


For most people, acute bronchitis isn’t serious. For people with compromised immune systems, small children, and the elderly, bronchitis can cause complications such as pneumonia or respiratory failure.

It may also become serious if you haven’t been immunized against pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), or the flu. If acute bronchitis recurs repeatedly, it may turn into chronic bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has the same symptoms as acute bronchitis, but it can last for much longer, typically around three months. You may also experience recurrences of chronic bronchitis. These can last for two years or longer.

Chronic bronchitis can be caused by smoking cigarettes. Environmental toxins, such as air pollution, can also be a cause.

When can I exercise?

Whether you have acute or chronic bronchitis, you can benefit from exercise. Determining when to push yourself and when to rest is important.

If you come down with acute bronchitis, your body will need to rest so you can recover. You should hold off on exercise while you’re symptomatic, typically for three to 10 days.

You may continue to have a dry cough for several weeks. You can exercise with this dry cough, but vigorous aerobics like running or dancing may be difficult.

Once your symptoms begin to improve, you can start exercising again. You may need to go slowly at first. Begin with low-impact cardiovascular workouts, such as swimming or walking.

Keep in mind that if swimming indoors, there may be a higher concentration of chlorine that might cause coughing and wheezing, exacerbating the symptoms of bronchitis.

When possible, swim in an outdoor pool if you have bronchitis, as chlorine dissipates quickly in outdoor areas. You can build up to longer, more intense workouts over several weeks.

If you practice yoga, you may have trouble maintaining certain poses at first. Inverted poses can bring up phlegm and cause you to cough. Start out with gentle poses, such as child’s pose and mountain pose.

If you have chronic bronchitis, exercising may seem challenging, but it can ultimately improve your overall health and quality of life. Breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing, can help you breathe deeply and exercise longer.


Pursed-lip breathing slows down your breathing, allowing you to take in more oxygen. To practice this technique, breathe in through your nose with a closed mouth. Then breathe out through pursed lips.

When planning your workouts, keep an eye on the weather. Weather extremes such as heat waves, frigid temperatures, or high humidity can make it harder to breathe and may aggravate a lingering cough.

If you have allergies, you may need to avoid high-pollen days. You may choose to exercise indoors when outside conditions aren’t ideal.

Advantages of exercise

Regular exercise can help you feel better, both physically and mentally. The many benefits of exercise include:

  • increased energy
  • stronger bones
  • improved blood circulation
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduced body fat
  • reduced stress

After a bout of acute bronchitis, exercise can support your recovery and help you regain strength. If you have chronic bronchitis, exercise can help improve your chronic symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Exercise can also help strengthen the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which support respiration. Cardiovascular exercise including swimming, walking, and running help your body use oxygen more efficiently and make breathing easier over time.



Physical exertion can sometimes exacerbate bronchitis symptoms. Stop exercising and rest if you experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • wheezing

If your symptoms continue, contact your doctor. Let them know what type of exercise you were doing when the symptoms occurred. You may be able to alleviate exercise-related complications by modifying the type or duration of your workout.

For example, if you’re a runner with chronic bronchitis, you may need to reduce your mileage and take precautions before a run. These may include using a humidifier to relax your bronchial tubes or practicing pursed-lip breathing prior to and during a run.

Alternating between running and walking in three-to-five minute intervals may also help.

Working with your doctor

If you have chronic bronchitis, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. They can help you determine how much exercise to do each week, which types are right for you, and how to schedule your exercise around medication use.

Your doctor can also monitor your progress to help you reach your exercise goals without overdoing it.

One way to do this is by using the Borg rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. This is a scale you can use to measure your exertion level during exercise. The scale is based on your own level of exertion.

For example, walking a mile in 20 minutes (3 miles per hour) may be a 9 on your exertion scale, but it could be a 13 on a friend’s scale.


Borg rating of perceived exertion scale

Exertion rating Level of exertion
6-7 no exertion
7.5-8 extremely light exertion
9-10 very light
11-12 light
13-14 somewhat hard
15-16 heavy
17-18 very heavy or hard
19 extremely hard
20 maximum level of exertion

Your doctor may also recommend trying pulmonary rehabilitation with a respiratory therapist who can show you how to better manage your breathing. This may help you exercise more without becoming winded or short of breath.


Exercise is good for your cardiovascular health, and it can also be beneficial for your lungs. If you have bronchitis, you may need to take a short break from exercise. Once your symptoms begin to improve, you should be able to resume exercising.

When exercising, remember to:

  • start slow
  • monitor your symptoms
  • work with your doctor

Tips for safe exercise

If you’ve had bronchitis, it’s important to start slow when returning to or starting an exercise program.

  • Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them.
  • Start small with exercises like stretching and low-impact cardiovascular workouts such as walking.
  • If you’re doing aerobics or another strenuous form of cardiovascular exercise, warm up first and cool down afterward. This will help you control and regulate your breathing, and also stretch out tight muscles.
  • Give yourself time and work up to realistic goals. Even after symptoms go away, your body will still need time to recover.

Bronchitis symptoms include a wet, phlegm-filled cough and difficulty breathing. But can people with bronchitis exercise without making their condition worse?

Some bronchitis symptoms may be exacerbated by exercise. However, if done carefully, regular physical activity is recommended for those recovering from acute bronchitis. Exercise may also be important in the management of chronic bronchitis.

For those with bronchitis symptoms, environmental factors, such as extreme heat and cold, increase the likelihood of breathing complications. If shortness of breath, wheezing, uncontrolled coughing or dizziness occur, exercise should be stopped.

This article explores bronchitis and exercise to help those with the condition understand what they can do, safely.

Exercise and lung health

man exercising with a cough
Exercise may help to lessen some of the symptoms of bronchitis but there are factors to consider, such as the type of condition.

Exercise has many benefits for overall health and lung health, in particular.

During cardiovascular activity, muscles need more oxygen. This increases demand on the lungs to take in air, and the heart to circulate blood.

Muscles become stronger and more efficient with regular exercise, decreasing the amount of oxygen required for physical exertion.

When lung tissues are inflamed, the airways narrow and fill with mucus. This reduces oxygen intake during inhalation and carbon dioxide output during exhalation.

Normally, the diaphragm does most of the work required to fill and empty the lungs. It does this passively, exchanging air mixed with oxygen and gasses, in the space between it and lung tissues.

Over time, inflamed lung tissues become less flexible and do not return to their full form during exhalation, leaving behind stale air. The more stale air in this space, the less room there is for the diaphragm to contract and let in new air.

This increases the amount of work the lungs must do to maintain oxygen levels, making breathing more challenging.

If the lungs are compromised in any way, they may not be able to cope with the increased oxygen demand for physical exertion.

However, this depends on the extent of the narrowing and mucus content, which is why conditions, such as bronchitis, affect this process.


Exercising with bronchitis

Exercise allows the muscles to become more efficient and use less oxygen. As such, it can help lessen some of the symptoms of bronchitis.

If a person is properly hydrated, exercise can also loosen nasal congestion and open the sinuses.

Acute or chronic?

Deciding whether to exercise with bronchitis depends whether the condition is acute or chronic.

Cases of acute bronchitis are often caused by the common cold and clear up on their own within 3-10 days. A dry cough may persist for a few weeks after an acute case.

In contrast, chronic bronchitis is a condition included in the definition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

The majority of chronic cases in the United States are caused by tobacco smoking. Long-term exposure to environmental toxins or irritants can also cause chronic bronchitis.

In chronic cases, symptoms last for at least 3 months per year for 2 successive years and require medical treatment.

Exercise with acute bronchitis

What kind and intensity of exercises are appropriate for someone with bronchitis depends on individual needs.

It should be safe to exercise if cold or flu symptoms are limited to above the neck. This includes symptoms that affect:

  • sinuses
  • throat
  • head

Those with acute bronchitis, however, should refrain from physical exertion while they have symptoms. Typically, this means avoiding purposeful exercise, during the 3-10 day recovery window.

Once symptoms resolve, it is usually safe to return to low levels of activity. This is the case even if a dry cough remains.

Getting back to regular activity levels may take several weeks after acute bronchitis. The lungs often remain inflamed after apparent recovery. This makes them less able to handle stress and more reactive to it.

Starting with more gentle exercises, or reduced versions of workouts will help the lungs slowly rebuild strength. Cutting the normal duration, frequency, and intensity of workouts in half is a good starting point for many.

Exercise with chronic bronchitis

For those with chronic bronchitis, the idea of exercise may seem daunting. However, regular cardiovascular activity is key to maintaining lung health during and after episodes.

As with acute cases, those with chronic bronchitis should ease their way into workout routines. A doctor or medical professional should be consulted to help guide the process.

There are two key exercise techniques that may help:

  • Interval exercises: For those with chronic lung conditions, the European Lung Foundation recommend using intermittent or interval exercises, which alternate between a few minutes of activity, then rest, to help reduce shortness of breath.
  • Controlled breathing exercises: These include pursed lip and belly breathing. They slow exhalation, keeping the airways open longer and, allowing in more air. The American Lung Association recommend doing both exercises for 5-10 minutes daily to improve symptoms, such as shortness of breath.

Pursed lip breathing involves breathing in through the nose. People then slowly and steadily exhale through pursed lips for twice as long as their inhalation.

Belly breathing requires the same inhalation and exhalation process. However, it is done without pursed lips and attention focuses on the rise and fall of the belly.

It is important to keep the head, neck, and shoulders relaxed during breathing exercises. This helps ensure the diaphragm is doing the bulk of the work and retraining the way it needs.

Considerations for exercise with both bronchitis types

lady doing squats
Warming up, cooling down, and doing light cardiovascular exercise is recommended for exercise with both bronchitis types.

Exercises and considerations recommended for those recovering from acute bronchitis or with chronic bronchitis include:

  • gentle stretching exercises, such as yoga, avoiding downward or upside-down poses, as these encourage phlegm to travel upwards
  • cardiovascular exercises that promote light, continuous exertion, including walking or distance swimming
  • continuing everyday activities or hobbies if possible or as symptoms lessen, including housework, gardening, dog walks, or playing golf
  • following a steady, comfortable pace and not pushing it
  • warming up and cooling down after exercise, allowing breathing rate to increase slowly and return to normal
  • focusing on improving muscle strength to improve oxygen inefficiency and decrease demand on the lungs
  • focusing on the duration of exertion rather than the intensity
  • mindful breathing, paying attention to the length and frequency of breath
  • using a humidifier before exercising to help open the airways and loosen mucus
  • adjusting a workout to meet changes in weather or environmental conditions
  • taking as many breaks or rest periods as needed
  • drinking plenty of fluids while exercising
  • keeping in mind that it may take time, from weeks to months, to see significant results and return to normal routines
  • basing the intensity of workouts on what feels comfortable instead of other factors, such as heart rate or overheating

People with chronic bronchitis may find it easier to walk with their arms braced by a walker, or even by holding onto their pant waistline or belt. Some may also need to use an oxygen machine before exercise.

Precautions when exercising with bronchitis

Exercise can help lessen the symptoms of bronchitis and speed up the recovery process, by improving muscle strength and oxygen efficiency.

But the oxygen levels demanded by physical exertion can exceed lung capabilities, especially when airways are compromised.

Exercise should be immediately stopped if shortness of breath is intense. A good rule to follow is that if a person no longer has enough airflow to talk, they have gone too far. Other symptoms that indicate exercise should be stopped immediately include:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • chest pain, especially a feeling similar to indigestion
  • uncomfortable increase in chest tightness
  • feeling faint or lightheaded
  • increase in body aches or pain
  • brownish, yellow-colored urine

Stamina should increase over time with consistent, progressively challenging exercise. If breathing problems continue to interfere with proper exercise, a doctor should be seen to reassess workout regimes or treatment plans.

Additional health complications

jogger with asthma pump
Tailored exercise may be recommended for people with additional health complications such as asthma, as this condition may intensify the symptoms of bronchitis.

Those with additional health complications often require more tailored exercise plans and supervision.

Conditions that may intensify the symptoms of bronchitis and alter exercise plans include:

Environmental factors

Certain environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, and particles in the air may worsen bronchitis symptoms and increase the likelihood of problems during exercise.

Any time symptoms become severe, do not respond to treatment, or worsen after improving, then someone should speak to a doctor.

You should hold off on exercise while you’re symptomatic, typically for three to 10 days. You may continue to have a dry cough for several weeks. You can exercise with this dry cough, but vigorous aerobics like running or dancing may be difficult. Once your symptoms begin to improve, you can start exercising again.
Most cases of acute bronchitis go away on their own with home care, such as drinking lots of water, keeping a humidifier running nearby, and taking over-the-counter cough suppressants and pain relievers. Exercising if you have chest congestion could worsen the infection, so you may want to take a break from exercising.
You can speed up your recovery with these basic steps:
  1. Drink lots of fluids, especially water. Try eight to 12 glasses a day to help thin out that mucus and make it easier to cough up. …
  2. Get plenty of rest.
  3. Use over-the-counter pain relievers with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or aspirin to help with pain
Those with acute bronchitis, however, should refrain from physical exertion while they have symptoms. Typically, this means avoiding purposeful exercise, during the 3-10 day recovery window. Once symptoms resolve, it is usually safe to return to low levels of activity. This is the case even if a dry cough remains.
Smoking. This the main risk factor. Up to 75% of people who have chronic bronchitis smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts from the environment or workplace.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and milk products. Try home remedies like spicy foods, mullein tea, vitamin C, zinc, garlic, and over-the-counter saline nasal spray.
Most cases of bronchitis go away on their own. The infection simply has to run its course over several weeks. Treatment options your doctor may suggest are: Resting and getting plenty of fluids.
If you have bronchitis: get plenty of rest. drink lots of fluids – this helps prevent dehydration and thins the mucus in your lungs, making it easier to cough up. treat headaches, fever, and aches and pains with paracetamol or ibuprofen – although ibuprofen is not recommended if you have asthma.
Generally, you should be feeling better from acute bronchitis within a week or two, though you may have a lingering cough and fatigue for three weeks or more. The types of viruses and bacteria that cause bronchitis will usually have been in your system from two to six days before you start feeling cold symptoms.
If you have a chronic lung problem with mucus, or you have increased mucus from an infection, lying with your chest lower than your belly (abdomen) can help loosen and drain extra mucus from your lungs.
This inflammation can also cause the membranes in the lining to start producing excess mucus, clogging the bronchi and restricting airflow to the lungs further. This triggers coughing (the most common symptom of bronchitis), which if persistent, can make you feel extremely tired.
Most people get over bronchitis in about two weeks, but it might take as long as three to six weeks. You can manage your symptoms at home with over-the-counter medicines while you get better. If you don’t feel better after three weeks, see your healthcare provider.
Most cases of acute bronchitis go away on their own in 7 to 10 days. You should call your doctor if: You continue to wheeze and cough for more than 2 weeks, especially at night when you lie down or when you are active. You continue to cough for more than 2 weeks and have a bad-tasting fluid come up into your mouth.
If you have acute bronchitis, you are usually contagious during the incubation period, and while you have symptoms. The incubation period lasts around three to four days after exposure to the virus. You will develop symptoms at the end of the incubation period, and will remain contagious until your symptoms resolve.
To begin, rest one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Breathe in slowly until you feel your stomach rise higher than your chest. Exhale from your mouth, and then inhale again through your nose, feeling your stomach rise each time. If possible, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds.
You may have fever, chills, or a headache if you have an acute bronchitis. You may have pain in your muscles, or pain in your lungs when you take a deep breath with both types of bronchitis, especially if you are coughing really hard, for long periods of time. You may be overly tired, or very weak (fatigued)
In addition to lab tests, sputum or mucus from a cough can be visually examined to determine whether bronchitis is viral, bacterial, or both. Clear or white mucus often indicates a viral infection, while yellow or green mucus may suggest a bacterial infection.
Over time, chronic bronchitis can lead to permanent damage to the lungs, such as decreased lung function.
The majority of people with bronchitis have symptoms for about 10 to 14 days, although some symptoms (notably cough and fatigue) may last up to a month.
A dry, indoor environment Dry air can aggravate an already irritated nose and throat, making your nighttime cough worse. To relieve a dry air cough, you can try a humidifier to put moisture back into the air and make it easier to breathe, but be sure to take proper care of the unit.
A humidifier can add some much-needed moisture back into the air, helping you breathe more easily during the night. The moist air can also help loosen any nasal or chest congestion, which will also ease coughing at night. If you haven’t got a humidifier, try having a hot shower before bed and breathing in the steam.
Elevate your head and neck. Sleeping flat on your back or on your side can cause mucus to accumulate in your throat, which can trigger a cough. To avoid this, stack a couple of pillows or use a wedge to lift your head and neck slightly. Avoid elevating your head too much, as this could lead to neck pain and discomfort.
Chest X-rays may be used for a precise diagnosis of bronchitis. Treatment for bronchitis includes antibiotics for the bacterial infection, drinking lots of fluids, and plenty of rest.
Yes. Most of the time, acute bronchitis is caused by a virus, such as the flu (influenza) virus. However, many different viruses — all of which are very contagious — can cause acute bronchitis.
What Is a Bronchitis Cough Like? A bronchitis cough sounds like a rattle with a wheezing or whistling sound. As your condition progresses, you will first have a dry cough that can then progress towards coughing up white mucus.
Albuterol is one of the more common bronchodilators prescribed for treating bronchitis. It comes in the from of an inhaler. Steroids: If chronic bronchitis symptoms are stable or slowly getting worse, inhaled steroids, can be used to help minimize bronchial tube inflammation.
Doxycycline and amoxicillin are a couple examples of antibiotics used to treat bronchitis. Macrolide antibiotics such as azithromycin are used for less common cases of bronchitis caused by pertussis (whooping cough).
There are two main types, acute and chronic. Unlike acute bronchitis, which usually develops from a respiratory infection such as a cold and goes away in a week or two, chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition that develops over time. Symptoms may get better or worse, but they will never completely go away.

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