Postoperative pulmonary complications are common and cause increased mortality and hospital stay. Smoking and respiratory diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obstructive sleep apnoea are associated with developing postoperative pulmonary complications. Independent risk factors for such complications also include low pre-operative oxygen saturation, or a recent respiratory infection. Postponing surgery in patients who have respiratory infections or inadequately treated respiratory disease, until these can be fully treated, should, therefore, reduce postoperative pulmonary complications. There is evidence from several studies that pre-operative smoking cessation reduces such complications, with no agreed duration at which the benefits become significant; the longer the abstinence, the greater the benefit. Intensive smoking cessation programmes are more effective, and there are long-term benefits, as many patients become permanent non-smokers following their surgery. Supervised exercise programmes normally last 6-8 weeks, and although they reduce overall complications, the evidence of benefit for postoperative pulmonary complications is mixed. High-intensity interval training can improve fitness in just 2 weeks, and so may be more useful for surgical patients. Specific respiratory pre-operative interventions, such as deep breathing exercises and incentive spirometry, can help when used as components of a package of respiratory care. Pre-operative inspiratory muscle training programmes that involve inspiration against a predetermined respiratory load may also reduce some postoperative pulmonary complications. Pre-operative exercise programmes are recommended for patients having major surgery, or in those where pre-operative testing has shown low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness; interval training or respiratory interventions are more feasible as these reduce complications after a shorter pre-operative intervention.