woman on exercise bike with nurse assisting

Running, climbing stairs or even just walking around the house can be a daunting task for someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Fortunately, there's a way to make it easier: pulmonary rehabilitation.

Pulmonary rehab is a medically-based program that uses exercises and education to:

  • Improve how you use oxygen.
  • Improve your heart and muscle strength.
  • Increase energy levels.
  • Reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Decrease the chance of complications and hospitalization.

"Many people who have COPD fear becoming short of breath, so they start avoiding physical activity," says Debra B. Lund, MS, RCEP, FAACVPR, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Therapist at UM BWMC. "But in the long run, this does more harm than good. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help patients become stronger and better able to manage their disease."

Pulmonary rehab programs are led by physicians, nurses, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation therapists (therapists who specialize in the heart and lungs), physical therapists, respiratory therapists and dietitians. These experts guide and monitor patients' progress during each visit.

While plans are different for each patient, most spend between six and 12 weeks in pulmonary rehab.

Exercises focus on:

  • Lower body (Examples: Walking on a treadmill, riding a bicycle)
  • Upper body (Examples: Lifting your arms, turning a crank)
  • Strength training (Example: Lifting weights)
  • Breathing (Example: Pursed lip breathing)

The goal is to enable patients to do some of the exercises at home. Over time, aerobic exercises – exercises that increase the oxygen in your blood – are especially helpful for lowering blood pressure and improving breathing.

Patients may also receive nutrition counseling, emotional support and tips for managing medications as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation plan.

Even if COPD patients haven't exercised in years, they should not be afraid to try pulmonary rehab. Experts will make sure patients take it one step at a time and lead them to life-changing results.

Learn more about our pulmonary rehabilitation program.