How Exercise Benefits People With Cystic Fibrosis

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Staying active is one potential management strategy for dealing with cystic fibrosis (CF).

This article will discuss the risks and benefits of cystic fibrosis exercise and will highlight some tips to help you get started.

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Benefits of Exercising With Cystic Fibrosis

When done appropriately, incorporating exercise into your day can provide several important benefits if you have cystic fibrosis. These include:

In addition to the unique CF benefits noted above, there are several other positive effects that anyone who exercises can enjoy. This includes:

If you have cystic fibrosis and are interested in beginning a fitness regimen, be sure to work hand in hand with your physician to ensure the activity is appropriate for you.

Risks of Exercising With Cystic Fibrosis

Exercise can provide many potential benefits and is generally considered safe for people with cystic fibrosis. That said, it is not completely without risk.

Understanding the safety considerations for cystic fibrosis and carefully monitoring for adverse reactions can help minimize the chances of harm.

One of the hallmark symptoms of cystic fibrosis is an increased concentration of salt (sodium chloride) in your sweat. Though sweating out more salt may seem like a minor side effect, it can profoundly impact your ability to exercise. This is because the body needs sufficient sodium levels to maintain proper hydration and ensure your muscles can effectively contract.

Fortunately, there are several telltale signs that your sodium chloride levels are low (called hyponatremia). These include:

  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weakness or loss of energy

Keeping in mind that low sodium levels are more common for people with CF who exercise, several prevention strategies can be employed to avoid this complication. Applying extra salt to your daily meals can aid in increasing your body’s sodium chloride levels. Following a cystic fibrosis diet and eating salty foods like pickles, bacon, canned soups, and frozen dinners can also be beneficial.

Additionally, people with cystic fibrosis may want to add salt to their water or sports drinks before working out (especially in hot weather). Supplementing 1/8 teaspoon of salt per 12 ounces of fluid is recommended. Be sure to talk specifics with your doctor to ensure you are maintaining an appropriate sodium level.

Be Careful While Exercising

People with cystic fibrosis lose more salt in their sweat than the average person when they exercise. It is important to watch for the warning signs of low sodium and to develop a plan to stabilize your salt levels with your healthcare provider.

Activities to Avoid

People with CF are generally discouraged from performing more intense exercises (like running or hiking) at higher altitudes due to the potential impact that this can have on their lung functioning. Other activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, and scuba diving are also not recommended.

In addition, if your cystic fibrosis has led to spleen or liver enlargement, full-contact sports like football, rugby, or soccer may be contraindicated. Your physician is your best resource for help when deciding if a particular exercise is safe and appropriate. 

Exercise Testing

In some instances, your healthcare provider may conduct formal exercise testing in order to assess your overall activity tolerance and guide their decisions on which workouts are appropriate. This form of evaluation provides objective data on the way your heart and lungs respond to more strenuous physical activities.

This information helps predict potential adverse reactions that may occur while you work out and can enhance your awareness of any limitations.

Tips for Exercising With Cystic Fibrosis

Getting started with an exercise regimen may seem challenging if you have cystic fibrosis. Be sure to follow these tips to help keep you safe and consistent:

  • Keep a tissue nearby for any mucus that is released while exercising and realize that increased coughing during activity is normal.
  • Try to intermittently perform huff coughing as you exercise to clear any mucus that mobilizes when you work out.
  • Keep hydrated and consider supplementing fluids with additional salt to maintain appropriate sodium chloride levels.
  • Speak to your physician if you have been diagnosed with CF-related diabetes so that your blood glucose levels can be appropriately monitored during exercise.
  • Choose an activity or exercise that is personally enjoyable and team up with a workout partner if possible. Doing so will help you stay motivated for your workouts.


Exercise is a great cystic fibrosis treatment tool. Working out can help mobilize mucus buildup, enhance lung function, and improve your overall survival rates.

It is important, however, to be mindful of potential cystic fibrosis side effects like reduced levels of sodium chloride in the body. Your healthcare provider is the best resource to help you get started with a workout regimen and keep you safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What activities should people with cystic fibrosis avoid.

    If you have CF, you should avoid activities like skydiving, bungee jumping, and scuba diving. High-altitude running or hiking is also generally discouraged. In addition, contact sports like football, basketball, and soccer may be contraindicated if your spleen or liver is enlarged.

  • Is aerobic exercise good for cystic fibrosis?

    Aerobic exercise is very beneficial for cystic fibrosis. It can mobilize mucus buildup in your airways and lead to small improvements in your overall lung function. In addition, it can help lower your risk of developing CF-related diabetes or cardiovascular disease and enhance your overall survival rate.

  • What happens if cystic fibrosis is left untreated?

    Cystic fibrosis is a progressive condition and is eventually fatal, especially if left untreated. That said, treatment techniques have advanced significantly and have extended life expectancies in the past decade. It is now possible for individuals with CF to live well into middle age, have a career, and experience the joys of a family if they wish.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Minerals.

  2. Cincinnati Children’s. Cystic fibrosis and exercise.

  3. Hebestreit H, Hulzebos EHJ, Schneiderman JE, et al. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing provides additional prognostic information in cystic fibrosis. American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine. 2019;199(8):987-995. doi:10.1164/rccm.201806-1110OC  

By Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS
Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS, is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who has practiced as a physical therapist for more than a decade.