Exercise and Cystic Fibrosis

Exercise Is An Important Part of Cystic Fibrosis Treatment

Teenage girl doing front crawl in swimming pool
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Exercise used to be discouraged among people with cystic fibrosis (CF) because it was thought that overexertion would increase breathing problems. Now we know that the opposite is actually true. Studies have shown that regular physical activity provides many benefits to people with cystic fibrosis.

Why Exercise If You Have Cystic Fibrosis?

The health benefits of an active lifestyle are widely recognized for all people.

However, exercise is especially important for people with cystic fibrosis because it can:

  • Increase lung capacity;
  • Increase strength and endurance;
  • Increase energy;
  • Increase life expectancy;
  • Improve airway clearance, which helps prevent respiratory infections;
  • Increase bone density and prevent bone loss.

What Type of Exercise Should People With Cystic Fibrosis Do?

While most people with cystic fibrosis can tolerate some form of physical activity, the amount and type of exercise that a person can tolerate will vary based on the severity of his or her illness. People with CF should work with their health care providers to develop an exercise routine that is right for them. For people that can tolerate it, aerobic exercise provides the most benefit. Aerobic exercise includes things like running, swimming, cycling, or any other vigorous activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe harder.

How Much and How Often Should People with CF Exercise?

The general rule of thumb is that to receive the most benefit, exercise routines should include 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week. However, any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all and exercise routines should be adjusted according to each person’s level of tolerance.

Tips for Success

To get the most out of their workouts and prevent potential setbacks, people with cystic fibrosis should take a few extra precautions when participating in exercise.

Avoid Dehydration: Sweat and salt loss during exercise can cause anybody to become dehydrated, especially in hot weather. People with cystic fibrosis lose more salt through sweat than healthy people do, which places them at a greater risk of complications from dehydration. Dehydration can be avoided by replacing fluids and salt lost by drinking sports drinks or water and eating salty snacks.

Avoid Weight Loss: Exercise increases the body’s energy requirements, which are already quite high in people with cystic fibrosis. To prevent weight loss, it is important for people with CF to eat enough calories to replace the calories burned in exercise. Exercise plans should be discussed with the CF nutritionist who will recommend appropriate dietary additions.

Airway Clearance: Many people with cystic fibrosis find that doing airway clearance treatments prior to physical activity helps to increase their exercise tolerance.

As an added bonus, the exercise itself could loosen more secretions so it might be necessary to do another airway clearance treatment after the workout.

Hind, K., Truscott, J.G., Conway, S.P. “Exercise During Childhood and Adolescence: A prophylaxis Against Cystic Fibrosis-related Low Bone Mineral Density? Exercise for Bone Health in Children with Cystic Fibrosis”. Journal of Cystic Fibrosis. 2008. (Article in Press)

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