Is Pulmonary Rehab for Me?

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on February 4, 2020.

Dear COPD Coach,
My doctor advised me to start going to pulmonary rehabilitation. I have never been much into exercise, and the thought of going really scares me. I get so out of breath just walking, I can’t imagine being able to do any of the exercises. Here is my question. Will it improve my breathing, and how will I be able to do any sort of exercising if I get out of breath just walking from the car to the facility?

-Out of Breath

Dear Out of Breath,
I can certainly understand your fear of exercise. The fear and panic of SOB (shortness of breath) is very intimidating even for those who have dealt with COPD for a long time. Interestingly enough, these reasons are exactly why you should participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program!

Why? First of all, pulmonary rehabilitation will not improve your lung function. It will, however, enable greater endurance and cause you to feel less out of breath during exertion. How can this be? Actually, it is pretty basic. The air we breathe provides fuel for not only our various organs, but all the muscles in our body. At any given time, all of our muscles are demanding their fair share of oxygen. With limited lung function, our brain “goes into survival mode” and prioritizes where the oxygen is needed most which in most cases is our vital organs. As a result, when we exert ourselves, there is not enough oxygen available to properly saturate the muscles we use during the exertion. That’s why we experience being short of breath.

Now here is the key point: by keeping our muscles toned (which is a major component of pulmonary rehabilitation), they will require less oxygen to perform, which in turn will allow for more exertion without feeling out of breath. Your lung function doesn’t change, but the amount of oxygen required by your body becomes significantly less thus you are able to increase your endurance.

There are other benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation:

  • Oftentimes your respiratory therapist can alert you to a coming exacerbation long before you can recognize the symptoms.
  • Many pulmonary rehabilitation programs can teach you helpful hints to go about daily tasks in the most efficient manner, like walking up stairs, cleaning, and in some cases cooking…all tailored to your individual lung function.
  • In just about all programs, you will develop camaraderie with others with COPD or other lung diseases which can be a great source of support. Many programs also offer support groups.
  • Even if you can’t attend the program for an extended period of time or on a regular basis, your respiratory therapist can develop an individualized exercise program that you can do at home!

Pulmonary rehabilitation has been the reason for many success stories. I recall one man whose biggest goal was to dance at his daughter’s wedding. Another friend wanted to be able to participate in a long walk. One man, who had COPD as a result of his work at the 9/11 wanted only to be able to play with his grandchildren. All of these people were able to accomplish their goals as a result of pulmonary rehabilitation. In fact, the man who wanted wished to dance at his daughter’s wedding was even taught how to dance with his portable concentrator by his respiratory therapist!

We all use various therapies to improve our COPD symptoms. We take medication, we may use supplemental oxygen, try to eat a healthy diet, and always endeavor to maintain a positive attitude. Exercise should be an integral part of our therapy!

Best regards,
The COPD Coach

Coaches Corner is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at [email protected] We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to The COPD Coach.


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