Pulmonary rehabilitation is a 6 to 12 week programme of education and exercise to help people with chronic breathing problems such as COPD, to manage breathing problems, increase stamina (energy) and decrease breathlessness.
The programmes focus on education and exercise. They teach you how you can look after yourself with what you have learnt after the programme ends.
What does pulmonary rehabilitation involve?
Pulmonary rehabilitation classes are run by physiotherapists and respiratory teams. They are often held at local hospitals or community centres 2 or 3 times per week. The two main components of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme are exercise and education.
An individual exercise programme is designed for you and takes into account your condition and any other illnesses you might have. The programme is gentle at first and as your fitness improves, you may be asked to do a little more each time. You also may be advised to follow a home exercise programme, so that when the programme ends you will know how to continue exercising at home to stay fit.
If you prefer not to exercise, the physiotherapist can discuss other activity options such as Sing your lungs out, a community-based singing group for people with lung disease.
The education session covers information and tips on topics such as:
your lung disease or condition and how to manage it
how to eat a healthy and balanced diet
psychological counselling and/or group support.
What are the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation?
Attending a programme can't cure your lung disease or completely ease your breathing problems, but it can help you function better in your daily life. Pulmonary rehabilitation is proven to be effective in improving the quality of life and reducing hospital admissions of people with COPD.
Taking part in pulmonary rehabilitation can improve your fitness so you feel more confident to do things. It can improve your muscle strength so you can use the oxygen you breathe more efficiently and help you cope better with feeling out of breath. It can also help you feel better mentally.
If you continue to smoke, you can still benefit from attending pulmonary rehabilitation, as the programme focuses on improving quality of life.
How do I find in a pulmonary rehabilitation programme?
Ask your GP or nurse about a pulmonary rehabilitation programme in your area. There are a range of programmes around the country, including some offered by local DHBs or branches of the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation that are tailored for Māori or Pasifika people.
Alternatively you can search for a service in your area here: Services (type the words pulmonary rehabilitation in the search box).
The following links have more information about pulmonary rehabilitation. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is an umbrella term for a structured programme which offers supervised exercise and education to patients with COPD, usually over a period of eight weeks
Pulmonary rehabilitation is known to relieve dyspnoea and fatigue, improve mental health and quality of life, and increase the sense of control that patients with COPD have over their health while reducing their risk of hospitalisation
All symptomatic patients with COPD will benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, particularly:
After discharge from hospital following an exacerbation
When symptoms are progressively deteriorating
Health professionals may need to use creative strategies to adapt the basic components of pulmonary rehabilitation for patients unable to attend formal programmes.
“..an evidence-based, multidisciplinary, and comprehensive intervention for patients with chronic respiratory diseases who are symptomatic and often have decreased daily life activities. Integrated into the individualised treatment of the patient, pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to reduce symptoms, optimise functional status, increase participation, and reduce health care costs through stabilising or reversing systemic manifestations of the disease” Nici L, Donner C, Wouters E, et al. American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society statement on pulmonary rehabilitation Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2006; 173:1390–1413.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is evidence-based for COPD
A Cochrane review of 65 randomised controlled trials confirms the benefit of pulmonary rehabilitation. They found that pulmonary rehabilitation relieves dyspnoea and fatigue, improves emotional function and enhances the sense of control that individuals have over their condition. These improvements are moderately large and clinically significant. McCarthy B, Casey D, Devane D, Murphy K, Murphy E Lacasse Y. Pulmonary rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2015.
A further Cochrane review looked at whether pulmonary rehabilitation was safe after a hospital admission with a COPD exacerbation and concluded that pulmonary rehabilitation reduced hospital admissions and mortality compared with usual community care (no rehabilitation). Quality of life was also improved. Pulmonary rehabilitation appears to be a highly effective and safe intervention in COPD patients after suffering an exacerbation. Puhan MA, Gimeno-Santos E, et al. Pulmonary rehabilitation following exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2016.