Shortness of breath often limits what people with COPD -- or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) -- can do. When ordinary activities like walking or climbing stairs become difficult, everyday life with COPD gets harder.
Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD includes a program of exercises that helps people build their physical fitness. Many pulmonary rehab centers also teach people breathing techniques and strategies for living better with COPD.
Emphysema is a form of chronic (long-term) lung disease, usually caused by smoking. Because of lung damage, people with emphysema have difficulty blowing air out.
The major symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. In most people, symptoms of emphysema are slowly progressive. Emphysema symptoms also include cough and wheezing.
The most important part of any pulmonary rehabilitation program for COPD is exercise. All pulmonary rehab centers offer exercises to improve physical fitness. Some centers provide an exercise program only. Other centers provide access to specialists, education, and psychological support, in addition to exercises.
Pulmonary rehab exercises include:
Lower-body exercises: Most centers provide 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.
Education in Pulmonary Rehab for COPD
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.
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.
Psychological Support in Pulmonary Rehab
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 pleasurable activities, including sex.
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 for COPD
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.