Pulmonary Rehabilitation Benefits for COPD Patients

COPD patients can improve quality of life with pulmonary rehab

Physical therapist showing patient exercise bike.. Credit: Vicky Kasala

Pulmonary rehabilitation is the "gold standard" of treatment for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: its goal is to allow you to function (and breathe) at the highest level possible, thereby improving your quality of life.

In pulmonary rehabilitation, a patient will learn everything necessary about managing COPD. The topics covered usually include exercise, relaxation, breathing techniques, nutritional advice, emotional support and how to cope with the condition itself.

Goals of a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

The primary goals of a traditional pulmonary rehabilitation program are to:

  • minimize COPD symptoms
  • decrease disability
  • increase participation in physical and social activities
  • promote independence
  • improve quality of life
  • reduce hospitalizations, thereby reducing overall healthcare costs

Benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation

The benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation have been studied extensively. They include:

  • improved survival
  • improved exercise tolerance
  • lessened perception of breathlessness
  • improved quality of life
  • reduced hospitalization time and hospitalizations per year
  • decreased anxiety and depression
  • improved arm function
  • improved respiratory muscles (when combined with general exercises)

Techniques Learned Through Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Most pulmonary rehab programs are for outpatients, and normally run two to three times a week for six to eight weeks.

Team members may include physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, psychologists, cardiopulmonary technicians, social workers, pharmacists and nurses.

Among the many techniques you will learn are:

    During your pulmonary rehabilitation program, a great emphasis will be placed on patient and family education. This enables you to better manage your disease at home with the help of knowledgeable family members.

    Is Pulmonary Rehab Covered By Insurance and If So, Where Can I Find a Program?

    While most insurance companies will pay for a pulmonary rehab program, check with your physician to make sure you qualify.

    For a list of pulmonary rehabilitation programs in your area, contact the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (312-321-5146) or your local chapter of the American Lung Association.

    What Should You Remember About a Pulmonary Rehab Program?

    The benefits derived from pulmonary rehabilitation are only as good as your willingness to practice what you've learned on a regular basis and to continue to exercise once the program ends.

    Your program instructor should give you a list of exercises that you should perform at the same time as your supervised sessions at least two to three days per week, either at home or at a local gym.

    Upon discharge from pulmonary rehab, you should continue an exercise program four to five days per week to maintain the benefits gained from your program.

    I Want Pulmonary Rehab But Don't Qualify or Can't Get to a Program. What Can I Do?

    If you're unable to get to a traditional pulmonary rehab program, join a local gym and enlist the help of one of their trainers.

    You can also create a pulmonary rehab program in the comfort of your own home. Compare prices on pulmonary exercise equipment for your home and, with your doctor's approval, start your own home-based program today.


    Global Strategy for Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. The Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Updated 2010.

    Reviews in Clinical Gerontology (2003), 13 : 175-182 Cambridge University Press Copyright © 2004. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=230581

    Shimberg, Elaine. Coping with COPD. St. Martin's Press, 2003.

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