Diet, exercise and lifestyle advice

Nutrition and Bronchiectasis

  • Your diet and nutritional intake are very important if you have a disease like bronchiectasis. A balanced and varied diet can help you to maintain strength and fitness. If your body is well nourished then you are more able to fight infections.
  • You may be surprised to learn that food affects your breathing. Food is the fuel used by your body for all of its activities and functions including breathing. The right mix of nutrients in your diet can help with your breathing.
  • Protein, carbohydrate and fat all provide energy.
  • Protein foods are needed for healthy strong muscles. You should try to have a good source of protein at least twice a day. Protein foods include meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts, beans and lentils
  • Carbohydrates are the major source of energy for the body.  These include starchy and sugary foods.
  • Starchy foods should always be included at each meal, e.g. bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals.
  • Sugary foods include cakes, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks. These can provide excess energy and may need to be limited if you are overweight.
  • Fat is a concentrated source of energy. Sources include butter, margarine, vegetable oils, and cream.


  • It is important to know about your weight. You should get into the habit of checking your weight and observing any changes. 
  • If you become overweight your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply oxygen to your body. 
  • If you are underweight or lose too much weight then you may be more at risk of infections.
  • Loss of muscle mass will affect your general muscle strength, however it will also weaken the muscles that help with your breathing. 


  • Losing excess weight  through a healthy diet and exercise will make your breathing easier. You should reduce your intake of foods high in sugar and fat content, and reduce portion sizes and snacking.


  • You may find that you are losing weight without trying and are feeling weaker. You should try to increase your energy and protein intake to help you gain weight and feel stronger.
  • Your breathing may be using more energy compared to a healthy person. Infections can also increase the energy your body needs.
  • You may also find that you lose your appetite. If you are more breathless, this in turn can make eating more difficult and therefore you may eat less. You should try to eat 3 smaller nutrient dense meals a day with additional snacks or milky drinks between meals. You may find it easier to eat softer foods that require less chewing.
  • If you are trying to gain weight, you should include more high fat foods in your diet.

Nutritional Supplements

  • You may find it difficult to meet your energy needs from the food you are eating.
  • Your Doctor or Dietitian may recommend special nutritional products that provide extra energy and nutrients. These should be taken in addition to your diet.


  • It is important to keep secretions in your lungs thin and easy to cough up.
  • If you don’t drink enough fluids, your secretions may become thick and sticky and will increase your risk of an infection.
  • You should have at least 7-8 cups of fluid per day.
  • If drinking fluids with meals makes you too full to eat, then limit fluids at mealtimes and drink an hour after eating.


  • Any form of exercise that makes you a little breathless, such as walking and swimming is extremely beneficial for people with bronchiectasis.
  • It may help you to clear your chest and will improve your overall fitness. Staying or getting fit will help you build resistance to infections.
  • Your physiotherapist will advise you on the appropriate exercise to suit you and, where appropriate refer you to a specialist exercise group called Pulmonary Rehabilitation (see below) which is usually run at your local hospital.

The British Lung Foundation also offer advice about exercise. 

Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR)

  • This is a supervised group exercise programme in your area specifically for individuals with lung conditions.
  • It is a mixture of exercise and education sessions over a number of weeks.
  • PR has been shown to be beneficial for some people with bronchiectasis. 
  • If you are interested, please discuss with your physiotherapist, consultant or GP

Pelvic Floor Exercises

  • Some individuals with a persistent cough are troubled by incontinence (leaking) of urine.
  • It is a common problem and can be very embarrassing or difficult to cope with in everyday life.
  • It may also make you less inclined to do your airway clearance, which is not helpful to your condition.
  • If you do suffer from this, please ask for help, as it is very likely to be improved by treatment from a physiotherapist or continence nurse who specialises in these problems.

Exercise makes me breathless, how can physiotherapy help?

Breathlessness management

If you are affected by breathlessness then a physiotherapist will give you advice on how best to manage it. This may include advice on:

  • Breathing techniques to help you control your breathing.
  • Positions to help relieve your breathlessness.
  • How to pace yourself.
  • Techniques to help you conserve your energy.

What can happen if I don’t exercise as much as I should?


You may fall into the vicious cycle of inactivity (see below) which can exacerbate your symptoms.


  • We know that bronchiectasis is not a condition that is caused directly by smoking. You can find out more about the causes of bronchiectasis in the relevant section of this site.
  • However, if you have bronchiectasis and you do smoke, it is very important that you stop smoking. If you have a lung condition such as bronchiectasis, stopping smoking will improve your prognosis and reduce your chance of developing other lung damage caused by smoking such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
  • You can speak to your doctor or nurse about stopping smoking and they can advise you and support you in giving up.
  • The British lung Foundation also offer advice about stopping smoking.
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