Pulmonary rehabilitation

Also known as PR or pulmonary rehab

Pulmonary rehabilitation is an education and exercise programme to help people with chronic breathing problems such as COPD to manage your breathing and increase your energy.

Key points

  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation is effective in improving the quality of life and reducing hospital admissions of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  2. It can be used for other chronic respiratory conditions such as sarcoidosis, bronchiectasis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis.
  3. Programmes focus on education and exercise. They usually last 6–12 weeks.
  4. The programme teaches you how to use what you learn to look after yourself after it ends.

Understanding pulmonary rehabilitation

This 2-part series aims to encourage people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung problems to participate in the pulmonary rehabilitation programme. Doing exercise is an effective way of reducing your symptoms and improving your overall health.

(Kings College Hospital, UK, 2007)

(Kings College Hospital, UK, 2007)

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 2 main components of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme are exercise and education.


An individual exercise programme is designed for you and takes your health into account. The programme is gentle at first and increases as your fitness improves. You may be given home exercises so that when the programme ends you will know how to stay fit at home.

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
  • energy-conserving techniques
  • breathing strategies
  • psychological counselling and/or group support.

What are the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation?

Attending a programme won't cure your lung disease or completely ease your breathing problems, but it can help you function better in your daily life. Pulmonary rehabilitation improves the quality of life and reduces hospital admissions of people with COPD.

Taking part in pulmonary rehabilitation can improve your fitness and muscle strength. This makes you feel more confident to do things. It helps use the oxygen you breathe more efficiently and helps you cope better with feeling out of breath. It can also help you feel better mentally.

Both smokers and non-smokers can 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.

You can search for a service in your area here (type the words 'pulmonary rehabilitation' in the search box).

Learn more

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 NIH – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US
Pulmonary rehabilitation Australian Lung Foundation


  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation for people with COPD BPAC, NZ, 2017

Reviewed by

Dr Sharon Leitch is a general practitioner and Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health at the University of Otago. Her area of research is patient safety in primary care and safe medicine use.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Dr Sharon Leitch, GP and Senior Lecturer, University of Otago Last reviewed: 01 May 2020