Pulmonary rehabilitation refers to a medical program that aims to help people with lung conditions breathe better and maintain a higher quality of life. There are many benefits to enrolling in these programs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of long-term conditions that cause airflow blockages and breathing problems. It affects 16 million people in the United States.

A person with COPD can get many benefits from participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These include building strength, reducing anxiety or depression symptoms, and making daily tasks easier.

Other components of these programs include education and counseling. A participant can learn how to cope better with their condition and feel their best.

Keep reading to learn more about pulmonary rehabilitation programs, including their various components, the enrollment process, and how they can help individuals with COPD.

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Pulmonary rehabilitation is a comprehensive outpatient program of exercise and education for people with COPD. It involves training people on the following aspects: exercise, breathing techniques, education, and counseling.

It consists of two to three weekly sessions that continue for several weeks or months. The program provides the tools and knowledge that people living with lung diseases need to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

A rehabilitation team administers the program. Its members include:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • respiratory therapists
  • physical therapists
  • dietitians
  • exercise specialists

The team works together to customize the program to a person’s particular needs.

Although the program has the potential to offer several benefits, some aspects of the training may come with a few risks. However, a healthcare professional supervises the exercise sessions, which means that if a participant does encounter a serious problem, they can receive treatment immediately.

Pulmonary rehabilitation involves several components:

Exercise training

The goal of exercise training is to strengthen the muscles that play a role in breathing and other muscles in the body, such as those in the arms, legs, and back. Exercise also increases flexibility and endurance, which can make it easier to perform everyday tasks.

When engaging in physical activity, a person may need to adjust their oxygen therapy and use medications that open the airways. Additionally, before a healthcare team designs a customized program, it may be necessary for an individual to undergo the following tests:

  • Stress test: This test measures heart rate, oxygen, and blood pressure during exercise.
  • 6-minute walk test: Healthcare professionals use this test to determine how far someone can walk in a short time.
  • Breathing tests: These tests evaluate lung function.

Breathing training

Breathing training may involve teaching people how to use the following techniques:

These techniques may help a person control their breathing and avoid feeling out of breath, particularly when they are experiencing stress or engaging in physical activity.

People may also find that these techniques help clear mucus from the lungs.

Nutritional counseling

Nutritional counseling involves teaching people what foods to eat and how to prepare them. It helps ensure that a person gets enough essential nutrients in their diet.

For some individuals, a dietitian may also advise taking certain dietary supplements, sticking to a weight loss plan, or taking certain medications to meet the goals of the program.

Psychological counseling

As people with long-term lung conditions may experience depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems, pulmonary rehabilitation provides psychological counseling.

This may also include stress management training.


The delivery of the educational aspect of the program may take place in individual or group sessions. Healthcare professionals offer guidance on various topics relating to the relevant lung condition and answer participants’ questions.

Through the program, people may learn how the lungs work and develop a better understanding of:

  • taking medications for lung conditions
  • quitting smoking
  • recognizing and managing a flare-up
  • performing everyday tasks in a way that conserves energy
  • avoiding lifting, reaching, and bending

According to the COPD Foundation, pulmonary rehab can benefit people with lung conditions by:

  • increasing exercise capacity
  • decreasing breathlessness and shortness of breath
  • reducing depression and anxiety
  • boosting stamina and energy levels
  • enhancing feelings of well-being
  • improving the ability to do everyday tasks
  • increasing the ability to manage the lung condition
  • promoting active communication with healthcare teams
  • allowing people with similar concerns to connect and share ideas

Research indicates that the program is effective and provides several benefits.

Impact on survival rates

A 2020 study looked into the effects of pulmonary rehabilitation following hospitalization for COPD. The researchers compared the effects of enrollment in a program with those of no enrollment. They looked at enrollment within 3 months of hospital discharge and at a later stage.

Although enrollment within 3 months was rare, it was associated with significantly higher 1-year survival rates than enrollment after 3 months or no enrollment.

However, the study had several limitations. For instance, the participants who started a pulmonary rehab program within 3 months were younger and less frail than those in the other groups.

Beneficial for people with COPD

An older 2013 review looked at research that explored the value of pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD. The authors report that pulmonary rehabilitation can have the following benefits:

  • reducing breathlessness
  • improving endurance and strength
  • enhancing psychological health
  • decreasing the rate of hospital admissions
  • increasing the ability to perform everyday activities
  • improving a person’s quality of life

Yes, although people attend the sessions in a hospital or clinic, they can do some exercises of the program at home.

Research from 2015 evaluated the effectiveness of the exercise component of home-based pulmonary rehabilitation. A total of 29 individuals participated in an exercise program while a control group of 15 people did not exercise. The intervention involved sessions 5 days per week for a total of 24 sessions. The researchers concluded that home-based pulmonary rehabilitation improved exercise tolerance, decreased shortness of breath, and enhanced quality of life.

Below is information on enrollment costs and finding a program:


The cost depends on the program, its location in the country, and insurance coverage. A person can ask their insurance provider if, and to what extent, it offers coverage.

Also, if a person with COPD meets certain criteria, Medicare covers the program.

The coordinator of the program can provide information on what cost to expect.

Finding a program

People interested in enrolling themselves should start by contacting a doctor, who can give them a referral.

Health agencies are another resource for help with locating a program. People can contact the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 800-LUNGUSA (800-586-4872).

Alternatively, they can reach the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation by dialing 312-321-5146.

If a pulmonary rehabilitation program is not available in a person’s area, they can still benefit from an exercise routine. Before starting, they should ask a doctor to suggest one that is appropriate for them. One of the most important exercises for a person with a lung condition is walking, but a doctor can make specific recommendations regarding the duration and frequency.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that offers exercise training, breathing training, education, and counseling. It provides multiple benefits for people with COPD, including increased exercise capacity, the ability to perform everyday activities, and a reduction in breathlessness and negative emotions.

If a program is unavailable in a person’s area, they can still benefit from participating in a home exercise routine. However, it is best to talk with a doctor before starting.