Does Exercise Clear Mucus From Lungs?


Have you noticed that when you engage in a physical activity or intense exercise, your chest tends to feel clearer, and mucus has risen up to the mouth for easy removal? This is because when you engage in exercise, your body increases the clearance of mucus from the lungs. Moreover, your nostrils open during exercise, preventing blockages and making your airways feel clearer. 

Mucus is secreted by the lungs to trap irritants, which in turn makes them easier to exhale. It is the watery, slippery and gelatinous substance that is caught in a tissue when blowing your nose. When you become infected with a virus, or you have an allergic reaction, mucus is secreted by the mucus membrane in the respiratory tract. It contains antibodies and enzymatic proteins that help in fighting bacterial or viral infections. The secretion can be stimulated by the following: dust, cold, perfumes, smoke, spicy foods, some medications, deodorants, viral infections, bacterial infections, chronic disease of the lung, and asthma. The common link between these is that they, in one way or another, trigger mechanisms in the respiratory tract.

Mucus secretion is beneficial to health as it carries along with it the pathogens responsible for infections. However, when mucus secretion is excessive, it can be annoying and cause significant discomfort. 

Mucus can be present in different colours, and this offers an indication as to the type and cause of the infection. A clear, watery mucus is likely the result of some triggers like smoke perfumes or perhaps is symptomatic of a cold or minor viral infection. This kind of mucus resolves on its own with time. Yellowish or greenish mucus, on the other hand, is an indication of a bacterial infection or a disease of the respiratory tract.

Exercise and your lungs

Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for people with lung diseases.1 Higher physical activity results in lower rates of admission to hospital, especially for people with chronic lung disease like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).1 People with these conditions are often advised to engage in physical activity because of this. In view of these benefits, physical activity is encouraged in pulmonary rehabilitation programmes to help improve their lung function to a better level.1

When you engage in exercise, the supply of oxygen to the muscles by the heart and lungs is increased, thereby increasing oxygen delivery to the cells. Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises are beneficial to the lungs.

Does exercise clear mucus from your lungs?

Exercise improves the clearance of mucus for everyone, regardless of whether they have lung disease or not.2 During exercise, the internal temperature of the body increases, and mucus is moved out of the lungs. This makes it easy to cough and bring it up, reducing the accumulation of phlegm in the system. Exercise also enhances the supply of oxygen to the lungs, which helps for purposes of humidification and breaking out mucus from the mucous membrane.

Best exercises for when you have bronchitis

Both aerobic exercise and strength training are beneficial if you have bronchitis. Even non-intense exercise, like walking at the rate of 4-6km per hour, can aid with the breakdown of mucus and make it more easily removed from the lungs through the mouth. Further, even just going about your normal daily routine and running errands could be classified as exercise e.g., washing the car, taking the bins out, climbing the stairs, or any other housework.

Active cycle of breathing technique

Active cycle of breathing technique (ACBT) is a combination of different activities that results in the elimination of mucus from the lungs. There are three phases of the technique; 

  1. The first phase is simple and helps relax the airways. This requires you to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. It suggests that you place your hand on your chest while doing this to feel the chest rise and fall. Normal, gentle and slow breathing is perfect for this phase
  2. The following technique helps with the intake of air. In this process, take a very deep breath. This helps the lungs be put under enough pressure to result in the breaking up of mucus, and allows oxygen to reach all parts of the lung
  3. The third technique helps push mucus from the lungs up to the mouth - this technique is known as huffing, or huff coughing, and is essentially forced expiration. It makes you cough out the mucus with sufficient force to dislodge it. You can repeat this step until all the mucus has been removed

Home remedies and lifestyle

Using hot water can help break down the mucus for easy removal. The water can be consumed as usual, or used to massage on the chest. Some foods like honey mixed with lemon can be used together with hot water to clear up the airways.

Engaging in some minor exercise, such as walking, skipping a rope, dancing or even climbing the stairs, can result in breathlessness and anything that would result in such feelings of breathlessness is recommended for the clearance of mucus from the lungs. 

Medications like expectorants, decongestants, antihistamines, and home solutions can also be helpful for clearing mucus.


Mucus is accumulated in the lungs generally but is significantly increased as a result of diseases of the lungs like asthma, COPD, and bronchitis. This can also occur as a result of allergic reactions, resulting in the stimulation of histamine receptors and, hence, increased secretion of mucus. Whatever is the cause of mucus accumulation in the lungs, exercise has been proven to play a vital role in both the breakdown and removal of mucus from the lungs.

Mucus production is also the way the body fights off antigens, which could be infectious, like bacteria, viruses, fungi or protozoa, or even non-infectious agents like dust particles, aerosols from perfumes and other deodorants, and smoke particles. It contains enzymatic antibodies that help in fighting infectious triggers. Any physical activity that results in some degree of breathlessness is recommended for the clearance of mucus. Failing this, medications and home remedies are an alternative option.


  1. Dwyer TJ, Daviskas E, Zainuldin R, Verschuer J, Eberl S, Bye PTP, et al. Effects of exercise and airway clearance (positive expiratory pressure) on mucus clearance in cystic fibrosis: a randomised crossover trial. Eur Respir J. 2019 Apr;53(4):1801793.
  2. Luzak A, Karrasch S, Thorand B, Nowak D, Holle R, Peters A, et al. Association of physical activity with lung function in lung-healthy German adults: results from the KORA FF4 study. BMC Pulm Med. 2017 Dec;17(1):1–9.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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