Keeping active

Always get advice from a health care professional who knows the patient’s illness before starting any exercise programme. They will be able to suggest the best type and amount of exercise for their illness.

Walking around and activity are generally good for the patient – and for you. It can help build up muscle strength and fitness. This can help to boost recovery after infections and reduce tiredness and fatigue. Being active can give more energy and also improve people’s confidence and moral.

Remember that getting the patient to become more active may lead to breathlessness – this can be a good thing though as it helps build up tolerance to feeling breathless and keeps up fitness.

What you can do to help the patient

Encourage the patient to go to an exercise class designed for people with their illness. This is one of the best things you can do.

Try not to do too much for the patient. You want to help them but it’s good for them to do some things for themselves

This might mean doing things differently, or at a slower pace, perhaps stopping every so often to rest and recover. It might also mean using equipment like a walking frame.

Try and do the useful strengthening techniques shown further down this page, together with the patient – starting with 2-3 times a week. These can be helpful when the weather is bad and it is harder to get out.

Remember, you can also support the patient to use the Ways to ease breathlessness while they are keeping active.

“It’s not just saying you must do this more and you must do that. ‘Come on, I’ll show you. I’ll help you and we’ll do it together'” – ‘Karen’, carer for her husband

Watch the video below to learn about ways carers and patients with breathlessness keep active. Sophie Howson, former community matron and district nurse, also explains the importance of staying active when living with breathlessness

Have you tried...?

Useful strengthening techniques
The patient can do these at home, sitting in a chair. You might want to do them together with the patient.

Try and start by working from the level where the patient is now. Then gradually build up to do three sets of 10 for each exercise as they get easier.

Think legs, not lungs
Strengthening the patient’s legs will help their lungs – try these:
• Standing up from sitting in a chair
• Gentle marching whilst sitting in chair
• Walking with a pedometer – try to build up the number of steps

Arm strengthening
• Arm curls using small weights (you could use small bottles of water)
• Arm punches
• Upright rows (hold small weights with palms facing downwards and elbows out to the side, raise arms up to shoulders and down again).

Watch the video below to see how to do these exercises.

Watch this short video to see the strengthening techniques demonstrated – strengthening legs and arms will help to keep the patient active

Click here for a printable version of this page (PDF, 700KB)

Would you like to look at another support topic?

Page last reviewed: 16/06/2020