Reclaiming Your Life Through Pulmonary Rehab

  • Probably one of the biggest issues faced by people with COPD is loss; the loss of their former level of activity, the loss of the ability to do what they used to do, and perhaps the biggest concern of all, the loss of control over their breathing - and their lives. In another COPD blog, "Now What? Six Steps to Breathing Better with COPD," we talked briefly about Pulmonary Rehabilitation as one of the essential steps to regaining that strength and control and going on to live well with COPD. Today we're going to talk more about that, and it's the perfect time to do so because National Pulmonary Rehab Week is right around the corner - from March 16-22, 2008.

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    Should you consider participating in pulmonary rehab? Yes, you should discuss it with your doctor if you answer yes to any of the following questions.

    • Do you have COPD or another chronic lung disease and are becoming less physically active?
    • Have you had to give up or cut back on some activities because of changes brought on by your breathing?
    • Are you feeling more tired and short of breath(SOB) more often?
    • Do you find yourself having frequent bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia, or just being down with a bad cold for longer periods of time than other people your age?
    • Are you confused about your breathing medications, not really knowing if they're working or not?
    • Do you feel downhearted because of your decline in breathing and activity?
    • Does your lung function test report less than 65% of normal predicted lung function on your FVC, FEV1, or Diffusion Capacity? If so, you may qualify for Medicaire coverage for the program. Coverage varies in each state, so check with your local hospital or pulmonary rehab facility. Some other health insurers, or payers, follow these guidelines.


    So, what is Pulmonary Rehab?

    Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program of exercise and education especially designed for people with COPD and other chronic lung diseases. In pulmonary rehab you'll gain strength, stamina, and flexibility, learn a lot about your lungs and how to stay as healthy as possible. You'll also find moral support and learn to cope with changes brought on by COPD.


    At this point, we should talk a little about what Pulmonary Rehab cannot do. Pulmonary Rehab cannot cure your lung disease (there is currently no cure for COPD, Emphysema and Pulmonary Fibrosis), cannot improve your lung function, or make you feel like you're twenty again!


    However, Pulmonary Rehab can improve your overall physical conditioning (better- conditioned muscles require less oxygen) and help you learn to breathe effectively so you can achieve your maximum potential in spite of your lung disease. It can also give you the control you need to get through episodes of shortness of breath and the confidence to face each day, knowing that you have the knowledge to take care of your health and remain as healthy as possible. In addition to physical conditioning and effective lung health management, you'll also find ways to cope with lung disease and live your life as fully and happily as possible. Participants in Pulmonary Rehab often learn the best lessons from each other. After all, they're traveling the same road. People participating in pulmonary rehab often say, "This is the only place I can come where everybody understands what this is like."


    You might be thinking, "Okay, this sounds all well and good, but I haven't ever been one to exercise. To be honest, I'm kind of scared. What will they make me do in pulmonary rehab?"

    While the specifics of each program vary, here are the basic components of pulmonary rehab.


    Health History. You'll sit down with a nurse and / or a respiratory therapist and tell them about your health history. Yes, they will ask you if you smoked and if you are still smoking. But, the professionals at rehab understand smokers and how hard it is to quit. They're there to help you, not to place blame.


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    Six-minute walk. You'll walk beside a therapist or nurse while having your oxygen level, heart rate and blood pressure monitored. The point of the six-minute walk is to see how much distance you can cover in six minutes. Don't worry if you don't go far. That's why you're there!


    Warm up stretches and strengthening. You'll work with some

    combination of dowls, resistance bands, and light hand weights.


    Exercise equipment. Bikes, arm peddlers, treadmills, and recumbent steppers are just some of the equipment you'll have the option to use. Remember, the staff at pulmonary rehab specializes in working with people who are short of breath. They'll help you find the best way to exercise in a way that is easy and fun.


    Attend classes. You'll learn about proper breathing techniques, medications, nutrition, pacing, conserving energy, relaxation, stress management, developing coping skills, and more.



    If your doctor or the respiratory staff at your local hospital doesn't know where the nearest Pulmonary Rehab program is located, contact the AACVPR (American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation) by visiting the AACVPR website. Some rehabs are located inside a hospital building and some are free-standing in the community.



    Pulmonary Rehab usually takes place two to three times per week with each session lasting for an hour or two. Your time in the program will last from six to twelve weeks, depending on the program. Some programs offer a continuing maintenance phase in which you may continue after graduation and come for as long as you want. Many people continue on for years in this affordable self-pay phase.



    Here are some of the results can you expect if you participate.

    • increased knowledge about your chronic lung disease and how to manage it
    • improved ability to take care of your overall health and breathing more effectively
    • fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions due to breathing problems
    • improved physical conditioning, stamina, and flexibility
    • more effective coping skills and confidence dealing with your lung disease
    • less anxiety, panic and feelings of depression about your breathing
    • having fun while finding friendship and support, knowing that you're not alone!


    Sounds great. I'm ready! What do I need to do to start Pulmonary Rehab?

    • You need a written referral from your physician to begin a program and a recent (within the last six months) spirometry or complete pulmonary function test.


  • Remember, Pulmonary Rehab cannot fix your lungs. But it can help you gain energy, strength, stamina and flexibility and stay as healthy as possible in spite of your chronic lung disease. Moreover, taking part in Pulmonary Rehab will remind you that you're not alone. There is help and hope to breathe better again and live well. Take control and reclaim your life! What are you waiting for?

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Published On: March 03, 2008