Participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) program will help decrease your shortness of breath and increase your ability to exercise. You may have heard that pulmonary rehabilitation is only for people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). We now know that people with other lung conditions such as pulmonary hypertension, interstitial lung disease, pre/post-transplant, and cystic fibrosis can benefit as well.
What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program consisting of education and exercise that helps you manage your breathing problems, increase your stamina (energy) and decrease your breathlessness. The education part of the program teaches you to be “in charge” of your breathing instead of your breathing being in charge of you. You will learn how to pace your breathing with your activities, how to take your medicines, and how to talk with your healthcare provider. The exercise sessions are supervised by pulmonary rehabilitation staff who prepares an exercise program just for you. The exercises start at a level that you can handle (some people start exercising while sitting and others on a treadmill). The amount of time you exercise will be increased in time and the level of difficulty will change based on your ability. As your muscles get stronger, you will exercise longer with less breathlessness and be less tired.
Benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Do you have chronic lung disease? Do you have symptoms from your chronic lung disease such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or fatigue? Are you taking medications for your chronic lung disease, but feel they are not helping you enough? Are you having trouble completing daily activities due to your chronic lung disease?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then pulmonary rehabilitation may help you live better.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) could help you realize some or all of the following health benefits:
- Reduce shortness of breath
- Increase exercise capacity
- Increase energy and stamina
- Improve feeling of well-being
- Decrease feelings of depression and anxiety
- Increase ability to do things in life that you need and want to do
- Interface more effectively with your healthcare team
- Connect with other people with similar breathing problems
- Increase your ability to manage your own lung problems in collaboration with your healthcare team
How much time does a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program take?
Most programs meet two to three times a week and programs can last 4 to 12 weeks or more. Because the program staff are constantly monitoring your progress and increasing your exercises as you are able, attending every session is important.
How will I know if Pulmonary Rehabilitation is right for me? Your healthcare provider will determine if you qualify for pulmonary rehabilitation by:
■ Evaluating your current state of health and lung function test results
■ Discussing your current activity level and your ability to do the things you want to do
■ Determining your willingness and ability to attend. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are limited in the number of people who can attend so that you get close supervision. You will be evaluated before you begin the program to make sure you do not have health issues that would limit your ability to join. This evaluation may take place at the rehabilitation site or in a clinic by a physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant. Once the program begins, a team of healthcare professionals (nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, dieticians, social workers, spiritual advisors such as a chaplain, and others) will work with you to put you in charge of your breathing.
What will I do in the exercise sessions?
You may not think that you can exercise when just walking across the room makes you breathless. There are, however, standard exercises that have been found to work well for people with breathing problems. The type and amount of exercise you will do will depend on what you can do now and as you get stronger, your exercises will increase. Exercise sessions begin with stretching exercises or warm-ups, followed by exercises for your arms and legs. Usually, you will do both exercises to build your strength and exercises to build your endurance (stamina). To build your strength, generally, weights and lifting devices are used. For endurance, activities might include walking on a treadmill or in a corridor and/or using a stationary cycle. The amount of time you exercise depends on what you can handle. After attending pulmonary rehabilitation, people are frequently amazed at how much they can exercise and how much less short of breath they experience.
What happens after I finish a Pulmonary Rehabilitation program?
It is so very important that you continue to exercise after finishing your rehabilitation program or you will lose all of the benefits you have gained. Before you “graduate”, the pulmonary rehabilitation staff will design a long-term plan of exercise for you. Many programs offer a “maintenance” plan so that you can continue to exercise with others with breathing problems.