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Work with Your CF Team

We often say one must walk before running. And it’s smart to start by taking small steps toward a more physically active lifestyle. Start by thinking about your interests and abilities, then plan an exercise program, with help from your CF care team members.

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Ask Your Care Team

A regular exercise test can help you find out the the strength of your lungs, heart and muscles.

Regular testing, along with more planned exercise advice, should improve your care and increase your quality of life.


To learn how a physical therapist can help you thrive, watch the Partnering for Care webcast.

Here are some basic steps to take before you begin an exercise program:

  • Determine your starting place. Becoming physically active is a big vow. Too often, we begin an exercise program but quickly quit. Change doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it happen at the same rate for different people. Start by finding your “stage of readiness.” A member of your care team can help you do this and start your exercise program.

  • Get cleared for exercise. People with existing medical conditions, including CF, should talk with their health care provider before beginning an exercise program.  Your care provider may want you to do some tests first, depending on your level of activity and health.

  • Test your current physical fitness. Find out your level of physical fitness with the help of a member of your care team. Usually, it’s smart to measure both aerobic fitness (cardiovascular) and muscular fitness (muscular strength).

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    Learn More

    Learn some simple exercises by watching the webcast "Exercise & CF."

    Fitness testing may be done using simple tests like walking certain distances and doing calisthenics, or they may be done in a laboratory with special exercise equipment. These tests help to:

    • Find your baseline exercise ability, which you will aim to improve or maintain.

    • Find the right exercise intensity for you and your goals.

    • Measure your progress. At different stages of your program, you can repeat the test to see how far you’ve come.

    • Show if your oxygen levels decrease during exercise and, if so, at what exercise level. It can also give you and your CF team information about your CF lung disease, much like pulmonary function, nutritional status and other clinical tests.

  • Set goals. Goal setting is one of the keys to success in changing your habits.The clearer and more realistic your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them (see “Step It Up” for more information on setting goals).

  • Find out your exercise prescription. You and your care provider will find out the specific amount of energy expenditure (calories burned) you want for your exercise routine. Energy expenditure may also be referred to as “exercise dose”;  think of it like a dose of a medication. To reach your desired exercise dose, you will consider type, intensity, duration and frequency:

    • The type of exercise should be dynamic and use many major muscle groups, such as walking, jogging, swimming, dance or stair stepping. When done at enough intensity and for enough time, these activities result in positive health benefits.

    • The intensity should be at least moderate. A simple way to monitor intensity is the “talk test.” For moderate intensity, you should be able to have a conversation comfortably while doing an activity that’s increasing your heart rate and breathing rate, and maybe even making you sweat a little.

      Vigorous intensity results in large increases in heart rate and breathing, and definitely results in sweating. It also means you are not able to carry on conversation during the activity. Another common approach is to use a simple heart rate monitor.

    • The duration and frequency of exercise will depend on two factors: your initial fitness level and the amount of exercise dose that you want to achieve.

    • The total amount of energy expenditure is a function of the intensity, duration and frequency of activity. Exercise dose can be increased by doing exercise at higher intensity while keeping duration and frequency constant or by doing exercise for longer durations or at more frequent intervals while keeping intensity constant.

For resistance exercise, the prescription consists of the type, repetitions, intensity, sets and frequency of muscle-strengthening activities.

  • The type of activity generally involves free weights, weight machines, rubber exercise bands or callisthenic exercises that involve large multiple muscle groups (e.g., bench press, leg press, pushup, lunge).

  • The repetitions are the number of times you can do a resistance exercise at a given intensity.

  • The intensity is the amount of resistance (e.g., the amount of weight) that you exercise against. For free weights and weight machines, this generally is the amount of weight you can lift for a specified number of repetitions (e.g., 8-12 repetitions).

    Resistance exercise intensity can be found out with a resistance exercise fitness test with the help of your care team. Your body weight may serve as the resistance when completing callisthenic exercises like pushups, pullups, situps and lunges. 

  • The sets are the total number of times you complete repetitions of a given lift (e.g., 2 sets of 8 repetitions each).

Your health care provider can help you develop an exercise program tailored for your level of fitness, your exercise and health goals and the equipment available.

You can learn more about exercise and physical fitness from MedlinePlus.

Step It Up

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Recommended Exercise 

150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity.

Setting Process and Product Goals

There are two major types of goals, product and process.

  • Product goals are the overall objectives of your exercise program.
  • Process goals are the in-between steps required to get there.

Your overall goal, or product goal, may be to move from an inactive lifestyle to doing regular physical activities at levels recommended for health. To reach this long-term goal, you may set a series of process goals.

These might include beginning with two 10-minute brisk walks on 5 days per week for two weeks; then doing three 10-minute walks, 5 days per week in the next two weeks; and moving on to a 30-minute walk, 3 days per week, plus a 10-minute jog, 1 day per week during the next two weeks, and so on.

The point is, rather than simply saying, “I plan on exercising more every two weeks,” you set a specific goal of exercises with specified intensities, duration and frequency.

You also plan for a realistic time schedule (e.g., every Monday, Wednesday and Friday) that can be monitored and modified as needed. Even if the overall process goal is not fully reached, the exercise program still may result in meaningful changes in health through reaching the process goals.

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Updated 12/26/12

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