When you have shortness of breath caused by COPD, it’s hard to imagine embarking on a regimen of pulmonary rehabilitation. After all, if you’re frequently out of breath, particularly when exerting yourself, how can you exercise? Even if you’ve been told that exercise will improve the symptoms caused by COPD, pulmonary hypertension, or interstitial lung disease, how can you perform the actual exercise you should be doing, without running out of breath before you accomplish anything?

The first step is to enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, where you will receive guidance, coaching, and assistance as you embark on your exercise regimen. The beauty of such a program is that it helps you manage your breathing problem as you increase your stamina and decrease your breathlessness. The program will teach you to be “in charge” of your breathing, instead of your breathing being in charge of you. Techniques you’ll learn will include pacing your breathing with your activities, proper use of your medications, and making the most of your communications with your health care provider.

Best of all, when you exercise, you’ll be performing activities designed specifically for you, and the pulmonary rehabilitation staff will supervise you as you work. You’ll start at a level that you can handle, whether that means initially exercising while sitting, or getting right on a treadmill from the beginning. It all depends upon your condition and the amount of work that you can perform without becoming out of breath. The goal will be to strengthen your muscles so that over time, you’ll be able to exercise with more intensity or for longer periods of time without becoming breathless or overtired.

How Long Does A Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Last?

The length of your pulmonary rehabilitation program depends upon your needs. Remember that it’s important to attend every session, because you will be increasing your exercises as you are able while the program staff monitor your performance. The more consistent your exercise sessions, the more rapid your improvement.

In general, most pulmonary rehabilitation programs meet two or three times a week and last between six and twelve weeks; sometimes more.

How Do I Begin A Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program?

The first step is to consult with your health care provider, who will evaluate your current state of health, your lung function test results, your current activity level, and your ability to participate in the activities you’d like to do – and, perhaps most importantly, your willingness to participate and to stick with the program.

What Happens When I Begin Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

You will find that you have an entire team behind you, often including nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, dieticians, social workers, exercise physiologists and even spiritual advisors such as a chaplain. They will all be after the same goal: putting you in charge of your breathing.

The exercise you will do will be customized to match what you can do now and revised as you get stronger. Typically you will begin with stretching exercises or warm-ups, followed by arm- and leg-strengthening exercises using weights and lifting devices. Then you’ll work on improving your endurance by walking on a treadmill or in a hallway or other unimpeded space, or cycling on a stationary bike.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Includes Education Too

You won’t just be told what to do and when to do it; you’ll be taught why and how your rehabilitation is working to help you breathe better and get stronger. You might attend classroom sessions, and/or one-on-one consultations with members of your health team, and you also will receive education during your exercise sessions. You’ll learn new ways to breathe during exercise and even during stressful times, and you’ll practice these new techniques during your rehabilitation exercise sessions. You’ll also learn about the best times and methods for using your inhalers and other medications. Patients are often amazed at how much exercise they can do, without becoming short of breath, after they’ve participated in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Are There Other Benefits Of Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Most definitely! When you participate in a rehabilitation program, chances are you’ll have the chance to meet others who also have breathing problems, giving you the opportunity to share your concerns and successes with others who are living with lung disease just as you are. The beneficial effects of group support and camaraderie cannot be underestimated.  Participants often have decreased levels of depression and anxiety as a result of rehabilitation.

How To Find A Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

Ask your health care provider for a referral to a qualified program. The American Lung Association also can help you to locate a program in your area. If you live in or near Torrance, California, we here at LA BioMed can help you with a referral.

Information for this article was obtained from The American Thoracic Society.

An Overview of Pulmonary Rehabilitation
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