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Breathe Easier with Pulmonary Rehab

Pulmonary rehabilitation may help people with chronic lung disease to live more fully and comfortably.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer

Do you have a pulmonary condition that is making it hard to do ordinary activities without feeling winded? Does shortness of breath get the best of you? Pulmonary rehabilitation may help!

What is it?
Pulmonary rehab is a comprehensive program designed for people with chronic breathing problems. It offers exercise training, education, nutrition advice, breathing strategies, psychological counseling and help with quitting smoking, if needed.

A team of health care providers will design a program based on your needs. The team may include a doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist, dietitian and other professionals. These programs usually are given in an outpatient setting, in a hospital or clinic. In some circumstances, inpatient or at home programs may be an option.

Whom can it help?
Most patients treated with pulmonary rehab have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes two main conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Rehab may also be provided to people with other chronic lung diseases.

How can it help?
Pulmonary rehab can give you information about your disease, treatment options, relaxation and ways to cope. Rehab may be recommended as part of your treatment, in addition to the medications prescribed by your doctor.

A program tailored to your needs may help you:

  • Reduce shortness of breath
  • Build strength
  • Improve your emotional wellbeing and quality of life
  • Improve your ability to do physical activities
  • Reduce depression and anxiety
  • Decrease hospital stays

After rehab, you may find you are able to do more for yourself at home. You may be able to return to work or get back to doing an activity you once had to give up.

Many people with lung disease are not active or in good physical shape. So exercise is usually an important part of the program. Use of a treadmill or stationary bike, strength training and upper and lower body exercise may be included.

Catch your breath
A pulmonary rehab program should be at least six weeks to be effective, according to the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. You will need to make ongoing changes for the improvements to last. The program will teach you how to do that. You can then live more comfortably and get the most out of life.

Talk to your doctor about whether pulmonary rehab is right for you. Before you make an appointment, contact your health insurance provider to make sure your visit will be covered. If you smoke, you may also have to quit before you start. Other programs can help you stop smoking during rehab. Visit or call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).


Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Accessed: January 12, 2016.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is COPD? Accessed: January 12, 2016.
American Lung Association. Pulmonary rehabilitation. Accessed: January 12, 2016.

Last Updated: January 28, 2016