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Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD is a program of education and exercise that helps you reduce your COPD symptoms, improve your quality of life and increase physical and emotional participation in your everyday activities. Although exercise training plays a key role in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, many programs cover a wide range of problems unrelated to the lung that may not be adequately addressed by standard medical treatment.
The topics covered in a pulmonary rehabilitation program vary widely depending on the program you attend. A program that’s based on a comprehensive approach should include:1
The benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation have been studied extensively in a large number of clinical trials. They include:1
Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs are done on an outpatient basis and generally run two to three times a week for six to eight weeks. Your team members may include physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, psychologists, cardiopulmonary technicians, social workers, pharmacists and nurses. The following techniques are among the many you may learn:
If you currently get short of breath doing regular, daily activities, you may be wondering how you’ll be able to exercise in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. According to the American Thoracic Society, your pulmonary rehabilitation team will start you off with standard exercises that have been found to work well for people with breathing problems. The type and amount of exercises you do will depend upon your current level of fitness. As you build your strength and endurance, your exercise sessions will increase.
Your exercise sessions may begin with simple stretching exercises, followed by strengthening exercises for your arms and legs using a set of light weights or stretchy bands. You’ll also do exercises to build your endurance which may include walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bicycle. You may start off exercising for short periods of time taking rest periods in between and end up exercising longer as you grow stronger.3
Many insurance plans will cover pulmonary rehabilitation as long as you have a medical condition that will benefit from it and your doctor orders it.
It’s important to note that the benefits derived from exercise during a pulmonary rehabilitation program only last if you continue to exercise on your own once the program ends. Your pulmonary rehabilitation team will help you determine what type of exercise is best for you to do on your own, even if it means just taking a 20 minute walk every day.1
For a list of pulmonary rehabilitation programs in your area, contact the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation either online or by dialing (312) 321-5146. You can also contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.
 “Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease”. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Updated 2016.
 Shimberg, Elaine. Coping with COPD. St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
By Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN