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  • Christina Hunt

Guidelines for the Pulmonary Patient on Exercising at a Public Fitness Center

Updated: Nov 1, 2018



At our pulmonary rehab center, we have had the great privilege to “graduate” many of our patients to their own fitness centers. Their pulmonary status had stabilized for several months, they had not experienced any flare-ups or hospitalizations, they weren’t requiring high levels of (or any) oxygen with exertion, and were overall confident to exercise independently. As a respiratory therapist this really puts a smile on my face. Often times patients will be the first to approach our team about the idea of exercising elsewhere and they just want to get our opinion if we think it is a good idea. Nine times out of 10, if a patient is confident enough to ask me if I believe that they can exercise at a commercial fitness facility… they are ready. However before they leave our rehab, we make sure we review the following guidelines so that they can continue to exercise with confidence and make the most of their time at their gym. It is important to note that that these guidelines can be used by ANY person with a lung condition exercising at a public fitness facility.


1. Bring a water bottle – it is very important to hydrate while exercising. You need to replenish water you lose when you sweat. Also, extra hydration will help you mobilize any mucous that you may have building up in your lungs.


2. Have a snack in your car or you gym bag – If you are diabetic having a small snack can be lifesaving if your blood sugar falls dangerously low. It is also a good idea to have a snack available if you should feel lightheaded or lethargic after working out.


3. Bring a pulse oximeter with you to monitor your oxygen levels during and/or after exercise. (For more info on Pulse Oximeters check out my pulse oximeter blog!) Small pulse oximeters can be picked up at pharmacies, Walmart, and online at Amazon. They usually run around $30. Oxygen saturations should stay greater than or equal to 90% throughout each exercise that you do. If you notice that you are dropping below 90% on a routine basis this may warrant a phone call to your doctor.



4. Clean exercise equipment before and after each use. Public fitness facilities don’t always have the ability to monitor the health of each person coming and going to their facility. Someone with a cold or other virus could have used the equipment prior to your arrival. Be diligent about wiping the handle bars, buttons, and anywhere else you may touch prior to using the equipment. Also, be courteous and wipe down the equipment for the next user.


5. Exercise (if possible) near a vent or fan for good air circulation. Many of my patients prefer a breeze on them while exercising to prevent the feeling of the room feeling “stuffy.”


6. Use antibacterial gel on your hands periodically while at the fitness center. This is another way to prevent getting sick from others. Keep some in your car and use prior to driving home.



7. During peak could and flu seasons, try to avoid busy times at your center.


8. Never exercise on an empty stomach yet avoid large meals. Food provides fuel to our bodies so having a light meal can give you energy for your workout. Eating too much can cause bloating (See “Bloat” blog) which can make you short of breath as well as nauseated while trying to complete your exercise routine.


9. Always use your morning breathing medications before you leave for the fitness center. You want to make sure you do everything possible to prepare for your activity. (For more info on preparing for activity see Preparation Blog) Open up your airways with your prescribed medications. Always bring your rescue inhaler with you in case you need it.


10. Utilize pursed-lip breathing techniques during exercise and recovery. This breathing technique is awesome at helping you recover from your breathlessness.


11. Pace yourself – Take time to rest after using each piece of equipment. Don’t start the next piece of equipment or exercise until you have completely recovered.


12. Always warm up and cool down.


13. If you are on oxygen, always bring enough for exercising AND the ride home. Being prepared with enough oxygen for exercise is a given, but make sure you have enough oxygen to get you through any other errands you want to run and then to get home. Keep a spare tank in the car in case you need to switch out.


14. Avoid steam rooms and saunas. Many lung patients have a difficult time breathing in heat and humidity. Avoid the temptation to try these areas. You don't want to compromise your breathing after a successful workout.


Do you have any other tips you want to share with our readers? Please comment below to help other people with lung conditions make the most of their exercise.


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