Pulmonary rehabilitation is a top-line recommendation for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and this seems to be true whether you have mild, moderate, or severe COPD. So what is pulmonary rehabilitation, and how might it help you?
It generally involves three elements:
1. Exercise training. Health experts show you what exercises are best for people with COPD, and the safest ways of doing them. Most programs meet once or twice a week for about 8 weeks. You may also be able to make arrangements to continue participating even after programs end.
2. Education. You will learn about your disease and the medicines used to treat it. You will learn how to properly use inhalers and nebulizers. You will learn coughing techniques to help you remove secretions. You will learn how to conserve energy and reduce fatigue to help you make it through a day. You will learn how to reduce anxiety and depression. You may also learn how to quit smoking, if you still smoke.
3.Psychological support. Along with the experts, you will also meet others just like you who can help to support you on your journey, motivate you to stay on track in your efforts to easy breathing and living a quality life. Dieticians and psychologists are also often available if needed.
Why should you participate? Studies (such as Lacasse et al) show that these programs help reduce dyspnea (shortness of breath, the feeling of air hunger) that results from physical exertion, and this in turn improves the quality of life. This makes sense, considering other studies confirm that regular exercise, even if it's simply walking, makes your heart and lungs stronger, increases your energy, and reduces fatigue. Plus, the more you exercise the more tolerant to exertion you become over time.
I recently wrote a post for asthmatics explaining the benefits of exercising called, 9 Ways Exercise Improves Asthma Control—you should read that post, as all the benefits described also apply to anyone with COPD.
Who should participate? Traditionally, pulmonary rehabilitation was only recommended if you were diagnosed with moderate or severe COPD. However, the latest research suggests that it helps anyone with COPD live better with it, including those with the mild form.
The April, 2014, issue of RT Magazine has a nice article on this subject by Cristina Ja'come and Alda Marques, Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Mild COPD: A Systematic Review. They said that even those with mild COPD (or FEV1 of 80 percent or less) already show evidence of decreased activity level, which results in muscle loss that makes it increasingly difficult to stay physically active.
They discuss a review of studies performed on the subject, and concluded that "most of the pulmonary rehabilitation programs implemented in the included studies had significant positive effects on the exercise capacity and health related quality of life of patients with mild COPD.
However, and as usual, they say that further evidence will be needed to verify this finding. Still, it clearly seems that pulmonary rehabilitation benefits anyone with a COPD diagnosis.
Begin a pulmonary rehab program today. The evidence clearly shows the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation programs for anyone with COPD. They also benefit individuals diagnosed with other lung diseases, such as those with cystic fibrosis or severe asthma. So, if you haven't done so already, talk to your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. Chances are pretty good there is one available in your area.
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