When you have lung cancer, you may not feel like exercising. It may be hard enough to just get through your daily routine. The thought of doing anything more can feel overwhelming.

It may surprise you to know that some lung cancer symptoms, including shortness of breath and fatigue, can actually improve with exercise.

It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Any small change in your activity level is helpful. Start slow and easy, and go from there.

Different types of exercise can benefit you in a variety of ways. If you’re thinking about getting more active but aren’t sure where to start, here are some ideas.

Exercise is a good idea for anyone. When you’re living with lung cancer, being more active may also help:

  • improve your breathing
  • boost your energy level
  • reduce the risk of cancer recurrence
  • prevent or manage other health conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes
  • manage stress and anxiety
  • provide some structure to your day

Keep in mind that if your symptoms are making it hard to cope or you have side effects such as low iron levels, talk with your doctor first.

There are many ways to be active. Start with something that feels manageable for you. Make it something that you enjoy. That way, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

Aim to eventually incorporate different types of activity into your routine to get the most health benefits.

There are four main types of exercise:

  • breathing
  • stretching
  • aerobic
  • strength training

Each type provides different benefits. Some help improve flexibility and balance. Others are important for heart and lung health. Some help build and maintain muscle to help you get stronger.

Many activities fall into more than one category. For example, yoga includes breathing, stretching, and strength training.

Talk with your healthcare team if you have questions or concerns about increasing your activity level. It may be helpful to work with an exercise specialist if you feel you could use some extra support.

Breathing

Breathing exercises can strengthen the muscles that help you inhale and exhale.

The diaphragm is the muscle below your lungs that helps control the depth and strength of your breaths. Strengthening your diaphragm can help you breathe more efficiently.

It can make it easier to catch your breath too. A stronger diaphragm can help you draw in more oxygen while using less energy.

Deep breathing can also be an effective way to manage stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises can also increase your endurance. This can support you in doing other forms of exercise.

Follow these steps to try diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Find a comfortable position either sitting, standing, or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, feeling your belly fill with air.
  4. Breathe out even more slowly through your mouth with pursed lips, as if you’re blowing out a candle.
  5. As you breathe out, you’ll notice your belly falling as the air leaves your body.
  6. Repeat these steps at least three or four times, or until you notice you’re feeling more relaxed and in control of your breathing.

Stretching

Stretching helps you become more flexible. It’s great for stability and balance, and allows you to be and stay more active.

Stretching helps improve your range of motion, the circulation in your body, and your posture. Better posture and stronger chest and back muscles can increase lung capacity.

Stretching is important after exercise, but it’s also considered a type of exercise on its own.

It’s important to stretch all parts of your body and hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds.

People often hold their breath while stretching, but it’s important to breathe through each stretch. Check in with yourself while stretching to make sure you’re breathing well.

Here are some examples of stretching activities you can try:

  • an online guided stretching video
  • yoga
  • gardening

If you sit most of the day, schedule a break every hour to get up and stretch your arms and legs.

Aerobic

Aerobic activity is anything that gets your heart rate up. It’s great for heart health and increasing your lung capacity. Aerobic activity includes:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • cycling

If you’re not currently active, it’s recommended to start at a low intensity. You could try walking the halls in your house or apartment building, or marching in place in your living room.

Here are some ideas to get aerobic activity into your day:

  • mow your lawn
  • rake leaves
  • walk your dog
  • follow along with an online dance class
  • use a pedometer (step counter) to track your daily steps, then gradually try to increase the number of steps you take

Strength training

Strength training activities help build or maintain muscle. Having stronger muscles can support better posture and endurance.

Strength training also plays a role in building bone mass. It’s recommended to start with light weights if you’re new to strength training.

Incorporate strength training into your fitness plan with these tips:

  • Lift light hand weights, water bottles, or canned foods.
  • Use resistance bands for your arms and upper body.
  • Raise yourself up onto your tiptoes, holding onto a chair or table for balance.
  • Try yoga or Pilates.

A physical therapist specializes in safe and healing movement. This type of specialist can work with you to find a way to be active that’s best for you. This helps if you don’t know how to start, have other health concerns, or are dealing with past injuries.

Your healthcare team may include a physical therapist. If not, they may be able to recommend a physical therapist for you to work with.

Make sure your physical therapist knows your medical history before you start a program.

Being active is beneficial for lung cancer. It can improve your mood and energy and help keep your strength up for treatments.

There are different types of exercise, and all have benefits. Having a variety of activities as part of your routine can improve your overall health and quality of life.

It may be helpful to work with a physical therapist. Talk with your healthcare team if you have questions or concerns about getting active.