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IPF: Lifestyle Management

This information was reviewed and approved by Jeffrey James Swigris, DO, MS (8/31/2017).

A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, including people with IPF and their caregivers.



An exercise program is perhaps the most important aspect in the treatment of IPF. It is common for people with lung disease to limit physical activities because they are afraid of becoming short of breath. But this is the wrong approach. Regular exercise can improve your heart, lungs and muscles, and it can help you breathe easier and feel better. Many people with IPF enjoy walking, water aerobics and riding a stationary bike.

Some people with IPF need oxygen therapy while exercising. Portable oxygen units are available. Talk with your health care provider about recommending an exercise program for you.


Getting Started

Before starting an exercise program, always talk to your doctor about your plan to be sure that it is safe. Then, start with slow, small steps rather than attempting a quick "lifestyle overhaul." Changing lifelong patterns is a gradual process. Succeeding in many little steps can be encouraging, while failing at a quick major change is definitely discouraging. Pulmonary rehabilitation provides an excellent way to jump start an exercise program. Talk to your provider about whether pulmonary rehabilitation is right for you and if there is a program nearby.

People with IPF can benefit from a formal rehabilitation program. Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs will include medical and nursing management, exercise, breathing retraining, education, emotional support and nutrition counseling.

A successful pulmonary rehabilitation program (such as the program offered by National Jewish Health) addresses the needs of each person and tailors the treatment to meet those needs.


Exercise Tips

  • While exercising, remember to inhale (breathe in) before starting the exercise. 

  • Exhale (breathe out) through the most difficult part of the exercise. 

  • Purse your lips while breathing. 

  • Don't hold your breath while exercising. 

  • Count out loud as you do the exercises.


Giving Up Smoking

Giving up smoking is a critical step in controlling your disease and preventing further lung damage.

Steps to help you quit smoking

  • Make a firm commitment to quit. Start thinking of yourself as someone who doesn’t smoke.

  • Talk to your health care provider about quitting and a plan to help you quit. Your provider can discuss the use of medicines to help you give up smoking.

  • Consider joining in a program that provides guidance and support for learning to live without cigarettes. Every state offers free telephone counseling through the QuitLine. The QuitLine number is 1.800.QUIT.NOW or 1.800.784.8669.


Once you stop smoking, it is important to avoid being around smoke. This will help decrease irritation to your lungs. Also, a smoke-free environment is healthier for everyone.

  • Talk with family members and caregivers about avoiding smoke.

  • Encourage family members and caregivers who smoke to quit. If they are not ready to quit, ask them not to smoke in your home or car.


Healthy Eating

It is unknown whether a specific diet is beneficial for people with IPF, but eating a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and maintaining a healthy weight are important parts of managing IPF. While it can be difficult to focus on this aspect of your life, eating well plays a big role in feeling good and staying healthy.

If you are underweight, focus on gaining weight. The average person requires approximately 50 calories per day for breathing. People with IPF often expend more calories per day on breathing alone. This increases daily calorie requirements, making it difficult to maintain weight.

If you are overweight, focus on losing weight. There are many benefits of weight loss, including reducing shortness of breath by decreasing pressure on the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. A good weight loss program should include a variety of foods and physical activity.



Rest is important. Make sure you get enough sleep each night. Some people with IPF need a nap or dedicated rest time during the day. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk with your health care provider.


Support From Others

Living with IPF is a unique and special challenge that you and your family must deal with on a daily basis. But the more you know about IPF, the better suited you are to manage the various aspects of your disease. As you take control, your quality of life will improve.

Support groups, both in-person and online, can provide an important social outlet for people with IPF and their caregivers. The meetings often provide education, discussions about a variety of health topics and social outings.

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