The most important part of any pulmonary rehabilitation program for COPD is exercise. The Center on Aging and Health provide access to specialists, education, and psychological support, in addition to exercises.
Pulmonary rehab exercises include:
Lower-body exercises: provides a regimen of exercises that centers on leg workouts. These exercises vary from simple walking on a treadmill or around a track to more intense stair climbing. Most of the proven benefits of pulmonary rehab come from studies in people doing leg exercises.
Upper-body exercises: The muscles in the upper body are important for breathing, as well as daily activities. Arm and chest exercises might include turning a crank against resistance, or simply repetitively lifting the arms against gravity.
Exercises for breathing muscles: Breathing through a mouthpiece against resistance during pulmonary rehab may increase the strength of the breathing muscles. These exercises are infrequently used, but may be helpful for people with very weak breathing muscles.
Strength Training: Most pulmonary rehab exercises concentrate on building endurance. Adding strength training, like lifting weights, has been shown to increase muscle strength and bulk, as well.
Many pulmonary rehab centers offer group or one-on-one education sessions to help people learn to better manage their COPD. Teaching sessions generally focus on:
- Understanding your medication treatment plan. This includes using inhalers the right way and on a consistent schedule.
- How to understand and use oxygen therapy.
- Quitting smoking and staying away from cigarettes after quitting.
- Eating a healthy diet.
Studies show that people who learn about their COPD and treatment plan are better able to recognize symptoms and take appropriate action. However, education is no substitute for regular exercise as part of a pulmonary rehab program.
People with severe COPD are at risk for emotional disturbances, like depression and anxiety. Mood problems can interfere with normal life and relationships by making people less interested in normal activities.
Some pulmonary rehab centers offer relaxation training and other mood-modifying treatments, such as counseling. For many people, the regular exercise from pulmonary rehab alone is effective at reducing the negative mood symptoms of COPD.
Benefits of Pulmonary Rehab
Most people who complete a pulmonary rehab course feel better at the end. They are able to perform more activity without becoming short of breath, and they report their overall quality of life is better.
In a large analysis of multiple pulmonary rehab programs, nearly all participants in pulmonary rehab had improved COPD symptoms. They consistently reported feeling:
- Less shortness of breath
- More energy
- A greater sense of control over their COPD
Participating in pulmonary rehab also may help prevent hospitalizations for COPD exacerbations. This benefit is substantial in some people with COPD, saving them more than a week per year spent in the hospital.