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Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Treatment Overview

Depending on your lung condition, pulmonary rehabilitation combines different treatments to help you:

  • Lead a more active life.
  • Have fewer symptoms.
  • Improve your quality of life.
  • Encourage your active participation in your treatment.
  • Keep you out of the hospital.
  • Decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Feel better and live longer.

Pulmonary rehabilitation—"rehab" for short— will not cure your breathing problems. But it may help you do your daily tasks, such as dressing, grocery shopping, and walking, more easily.

There are many different kinds of pulmonary rehab programs. Some are done in the hospital. Some are done at home.

Health professionals who may be involved with these programs include:

Supervision and structure

Pulmonary rehab is usually supervised and structured. This means that it will include evaluation of your symptoms and treatment, short-term and long-term goals, education, support, and supervised therapy programs.

Evaluation and goals

Your rehab team will look at your symptoms and current treatment to make sure that you can get the most out of the program. They also will identify other concerns, such as heart problems, that might affect how well you can exercise and can do your daily tasks.

Then you and your team will set short-term and long-term goals to meet your specific needs. For instance:

  • Some people might want to be able to dress themselves every day.
  • Others might want to be able to walk 30 minutes every day.


Understanding your lung condition—how it progresses and is best treated—makes it easier to live with and manage the condition. Rehab programs generally include education for both you and your family about a variety of issues. These include:

  • How you can manage your symptoms.
  • How to prevent and treat flares.
  • How to use your medicines and inhalers.
  • How to save energy and make tasks easier to do.
  • How to manage stress.


Support and encouragement from friends, family, and your health team are crucial in helping you stay with your rehab plan.

  • Your doctor may recommend counselling for you and your family.
  • Support groups are available in many cities. These groups can help you and your family cope with your condition and the problems it can cause.
  • One benefit of a rehab program is the chance to meet other people who are doing a lot to breathe better and live longer. You can exchange information about living with a lung condition with people who have had a lot of success.

Supervised therapy programs

Therapy programs are an important part of pulmonary rehab. They are created just for you, depending on your needs and goals. Programs cover many areas, such as:

Help to quit smoking.

If you still smoke, stopping is the most important therapy program. Quitting smoking can slow damage to your lungs. Your rehab team can help you find the right program for quitting, whether it involves medicine, counselling, and/or support groups.


Exercise training often includes aerobic exercise, such as walking or using a stationary bike, and muscle-strengthening exercises for your arms and legs.

  • Regular exercise can improve how active you can be. And it can reduce your shortness of breath.
  • If you stay active, you may have fewer breathing problems and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. For example people with COPD may also have heart problems that limit their exercise choices. You may need medical supervision when you start the program.

Breath training.

Breath training can help you take deeper breaths and reduce shortness of breath. Breath training works better if you practice it often.

Two breath-training methods are pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing). They can be used to help you get through periods when you feel more short of breath.

Try practicing both exercises 3 or 4 times a day. Plan to do each exercise for about 10 minutes. As you get more comfortable doing these breathing exercises, you can also do them to feel better when you are short of breath.

  • Pursed-lip breathing may help you breathe more air out so that your next breath can be deeper. Pursed-lip breathing reduces shortness of breath and improves your ability to exercise.
    • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while almost closing your lips.
    • Breathe in for about 2 seconds, and breathe out for 4 to 6 seconds.
  • Belly breathing helps your lungs expand so that they take in more air. (This type of breathing uses the diaphragm, a muscle that helps draw air into your lungs as you breathe.) Many, but not all, people find this breathing method helpful.
    • Lie on your back, or prop yourself up on several pillows.
    • With one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, breathe in, pushing your belly out as far as you can. You should be able to feel the hand on your belly moving out, while the hand on your chest should not move.
    • When you breathe out, you should be able to feel the hand on your belly moving in.
    • After you can do this kind of breathing well lying down, you can learn to do it sitting or standing.

Breathing while bending forward at the waist may make it easier for you to breathe. Bending forward while breathing may reduce shortness of breath in those with severe breathing problems, both at rest and during exercise. This may be because bending forward allows the diaphragm to move more easily.

Learning to eat well.

A healthy diet is important to keep up your strength and health.

What To Expect

An ongoing pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) program can help you function better over the long term. Each program should set short-term and long-term goals to help you keep track of changes and successes. This makes sure that the program continues to meet your needs.

Why It Is Done

Pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) is recommended for people who have ongoing lung problems such as COPD. It can help you manage your condition and be more active. It can also improve your quality of life and decrease your symptoms.

How Well It Works

Depending on what lung condition you have, pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) may:

  • Improve shortness of breath and fatigue.
  • Give you more control over your condition.
  • Improve quality of life more than other types of treatment (like medicine) do.
  • Improve how much you can exercise.
  • Help you feel better and live longer.
  • Decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

To work well, a rehab program should last at least 6 weeks. The longer the program is, the better it works.


There is little or no risk to these programs if they are well supervised.


Current as of: November 14, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Ken Y. Yoneda MD - Pulmonology
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine