Do I Need Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 19, 2021

Doctors used to tell people with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) to stay off their feet -- that exercise would make their symptoms worse. Today though, the thinking is quite different. Studies have shown that a light, supervised exercise routine is an important piece of PAH treatment.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you work up to a more active lifestyle. It’s a program that can help you manage your condition, build up your stamina, and handle breathlessness when it happens. It’s not a substitute for medicine and other treatment, but it can help you breathe better and stay healthy.

What Is Pulmonary Rehab?

It's a program that will help you exercise and learn better ways to control your breathing and save your energy.

You’ll go to a hospital or an outpatient rehab center and work with a training physical therapist. They can guide you through forms of light exercise like walking, riding a stationary bicycle, climbing stairs, lifting light dumbbells, and stretching. They’ll teach you how to keep control of your breath while you’re working out.

You’ll start exercising at a level you can handle and work up from there. Depending on the exact program, sessions could be daily or a few times a week and last 30-60 minutes each time. Once you know how to safely do the exercises, you might be able to keep up the routine at home. As you get stronger and build your endurance, you’ll be able to do longer workouts. You might even surprise yourself with how long you can last.

For some rehab programs, exercise training is the only offering. Other programs also offer group or one-on-one sessions to teach you better ways to breathe when you’re active or during stressful times. You might learn how to feel more in control of your breath and other ways to manage PAH symptoms. You may also learn more about:

  • How your medicines work
  • How oxygen therapy works
  • How to quit smoking
  • Proper nutrition
  • How to get the emotional support you need

What Are the Benefits?

Studies have shown that a course of pulmonary rehab for 10 to 15 weeks can help people with PAH lead more active lives with their disease. People could walk farther in 6 minutes, had better stamina, a lower heart rate, and even lower blood pressure. Plus, the rehab improved their day-to-day life, making them less likely to feel depressed and run-down.

Who Should Get Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Your doctor can help you decide if a rehab program might help you. They’ll talk with you about how healthy you are, how well your lungs work, and how well you can do basic daily tasks and the activities you love.

If your PAH medicines are working well, pulmonary rehab might ease your symptoms even more. But if you’ve recently fainted during exercise, your symptoms have gotten worse, or your medications aren’t helping, your doctor will probably suggest that you wait before you try this type of program.

What Are the Risks?

People with PAH are more likely to have a fast, fluttering heartbeat, chest pain, lightheadedness, and dizziness during exercise than other people. This is why it’s important to work with a trained doctor or therapist who can tailor routines to your health and watch you while you exercise. But if pulmonary rehab is done correctly, the benefits often outweigh the risks.

Show Sources


Sahni, S. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 2015.

Bartolome, S. Advances in PH, Summer 2010.

Holland, A.E. European Respiratory Review, 2013.

American Thoracic Society: “Pulmonary Rehabilitation.”

National Institutes of Health: “What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?”

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