If you have moderate or severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you know it puts limits on what you’re able to do.
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Your doctor may recommend that you attend a pulmonary rehabilitation program. It’s challenging, but it’s worth it. You’ll feel better and it will make your life easier in the long run if you stick with it.
Rehab programs aim to help you improve your health while learning better ways to manage your condition. The team will show you exercises that work well for you and will encourage other positive lifestyle changes.
You well know the troublesome symptoms of COPD — shortness of breath, chronic cough, fatigue, wheezing and chest tightness. Your rehab will focus on breathing exercises, cardio and resistance training to help control these symptoms.
Pulmonologist Umur Hatipoglu, MD, says doctors typically suggest from eight to 12 weeks of pulmonary rehabilitation. He finds that a 12-week program works best. And, you should attend two to three times a week, he says.
Benefits of pulmonary rehab
A rehab program will not cure your COPD or completely relieve your breathing issues. But it can help you in significant ways. It will help you:
- Breathe easier
- Move around more easily
- Improve your quality of life
- Exercise so you can stay healthy
- Manage anxiety and depression
While the exercise may seem daunting at times, don’t give up on it. If you start skipping sessions or quit, you’ll miss out on the improvements you could achieve, Dr. Hatipoglu says.
Rehabilitation also can help you in other ways. For instance, if you go to the hospital with pneumonia, you’ll recover more quickly if you start rehab as soon as the acute illness resolves.
Some studies show that you are less likely to return to the hospital after an acute illness if you start rehab as you recover, Dr. Hatipoglu says.
“Anxiety and depression, which commonly accompany COPD, also may improve,” he says.
Group sessions also can help you make social connections and find extra support, he adds.
“The skills and lifestyle changes that patients learn during pulmonary rehabilitation can continue to enhance health status,” he says.
Your goals can shape your program
It’s likely that your breathing will improve and you’ll feel better during and after successful pulmonary rehabilitation, Dr. Hatipoglu says.
But you also should think about what other goals you’d like to achieve. Discuss your goals when you begin the program. The team can help you personalize and tailor activities to help meet those goals.
Most patients continue to see benefits accumulate even after they finish the program, Dr. Hatipoglu says.
“This implies that the behavioral changes — such as improved breathing technique, nutrition, exercise habits and correct use of inhalers — continue to benefit patients in the long run,” he says.
Your rehab team will reassess your exercise capacity at the end of the program. The team will then help you develop an annual exercise plan so you can continue to make progress.
Doctors consider pulmonary rehab as a cornerstone of COPD management, so you should not view it as a luxury, Dr. Hatipoglu says. Ask your doctor about it if he or she doesn’t mention it. Doctors typically suggest rehabilitation for moderately severe COPD cases.
“Nonetheless, even less severe COPD patients may benefit,” he says.