Pulmonary rehabilitation

Also known as PR or pulmonary rehab

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.

Key points

  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation is proven to be effective in improving the quality of life and reducing hospital admissions of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  2. Other chronic respiratory conditions it can be used for include sarcoidosis, bronchiectasis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis.
  3. 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
  • energy-conserving techniques
  • breathing strategies
  • 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).

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
Pulmonary rehabilitation Australian Lung Foundation


  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation for people with COPD BPAC, NZ, 2017
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team .