Hi, everybody! Jane is taking a well-deserved break this week. I am stepping in to help cover a very important topic: Pulmonary rehabilitation. Hopefully, pulmonary rehab is something you may already have heard of. Maybe you have already participated in a program. However, if this is a new idea for you, this check-in should give you an idea of what you might expect in pulmonary rehab.
When I worked in primary care, I would often talk about pulmonary rehab as an option to many people with COPD who came into the clinic. Many of them looked at me like I was crazy for mentioning it, usually saying something like, “I can’t even go to the restroom and back without running out of breath and hitting my inhaler, and you want me to jump on a treadmill?” Admittedly, that does sound a little far-fetched at first, but studies show that pulmonary rehab is one of the best ways to increase your activity and improve your quality of life.
How Does Pulmonary Rehab Work?
When you start a pulmonary rehab program, your medical team (including respiratory therapists, physicians, and nurses) will give you a full checkup. The team will also check your activity level. This often includes a “six-minute walk test,” which measures how far you can walk in six minutes (including breaks, if needed). This information helps the pulmonary rehab specialists to design a program specifically for you, based on your needs and goals. The program will include activities such as walking on a treadmill, using an exercise bike, resistance training with light weights or bands, stretching routines, and more.
Your health care team will be monitoring you during your pulmonary rehab classes. They will measure your heart rate, oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure, and your level of tiredness. Your health care team will ensure that you are safe while exercising. Over time, you will slowly increase your activity and improve your stamina. After you finish your initial pulmonary rehab program, you will be rechecked by your health care team to see how much progress you have made. You may have an option to continue your progress in a “maintenance” program. These programs may not be covered by insurance.
Pulmonary Rehab Is More Than Just Exercise
Exercise is important but it is only one part of pulmonary rehab program. You will also learn about COPD and other lung conditions. You will learn how and when to use your inhalers and other medications, how to do breathing exercises that can help improve your shortness of breath, and how to choose healthy foods to help support your breathing. You will learn how to cope with your COPD. You may talk about your feelings with a mental health professional, or you may find support with the other pulmonary rehab participants in your program. These are people just like you who have similar experiences and goals. I know many people who talk about the long-lasting friendships made during the program, and how excited they are to see their “rehab buddies!”
What About COVID?
The pandemic certainly threw a wrench in the works of many pulmonary rehab programs around the world. However, many programs now have safety plans in place to help keep participants safe. Some programs limit the number of people who can be in the gym during each class. Others offer virtual or remote pulmonary rehab options. These programs allow you to participate in pulmonary rehab at home and still be monitored by your health care team.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a fantastic way to improve your activity, confidence, and quality of life. It may look like quite a challenge at first, and it may feel like one in the beginning, too. But the benefits are worth the hard work, and you are worth the effort! If you have not been through a pulmonary rehab program, consider asking your clinical team to refer you for an evaluation at a program near you or online.
Now, let us hear from YOU! If you are interested in pulmonary rehab share your questions in the comments below. If you have been to pulmonary rehab, help others by sharing experiences, too! Thanks!