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Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is a structured programme of exercise and education for people with long-term chest conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is designed to improve your level of fitness and quality of life and can help you manage your symptoms better.

Pulmonary rehabilitation courses usually last for six or eight weeks, and sessions are held once or twice a week. Individual programmes will differ as they will be tailored to your specific needs. Every programme is organised and co-ordinated by a healthcare professional – usually a nurse or physiotherapist. They will be at every class and will do your initial assessment.

"The best thing I did was my Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes. I was able to go back to work, and it helped give me more confidence to cope with my condition and stay well."

Some programmes are run in hospitals but many are based in the community such as community and leisure centres or church halls. In some areas there may be an option for pulmonary rehabilitation style exercises to be delivered at home if the class is not appropriate.

What are the benefits?

PR can lead to significant improvements in your quality of life and your fitness and ability to exercise. It can also really help to improve symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing or fatigue. Once you have completed your programme of pulmonary rehabilitation it is important to continue exercising at the right level for you to maintain the benefits.

What will I actually do?

Exercise is the core of the programme and is individually ‘prescribed’ for you based on your original assessment. As you progress you will gradually increase what you do.

This may involve:

  • ‘Endurance work’: such as walking or using an exercise bike
  • ‘Strengthening work’: using other equipment, such as gentle weights, for strengthening your arms and legs.

Your coordinator will supervise you closely, ensure your safety at all times and reassure you throughout. Classes are usually small in number. Your initial assessment will be done alone with the coordinator. You should wear loose comfortable clothing and comfortable flat shoes such as trainers.

As well as the exercise sessions, there are health education talks. These cover all aspects of chest illness, from the normal functioning of your lungs and the disease process, to coping strategies such as relaxation techniques and breathing control.

A multidisciplinary team of health professionals may be involved. The team may include physiotherapist, dietitian, occupational therapist, psychologist, pharmacist, social worker, specialist medical and nursing staff.

Who is PR suitable for?

PR is suitable for people who have breathing difficulties caused by a chest condition that affects their ability to do normal activities and live a normal life. If there is a class in your area you may get referred by your GP, nurse, physiotherapist or hospital consultant. Ask one of these health professionals if you think PR could help you.

Completing a course of PR is a good way to learn how to exercise at the right level for you.

For more information see the CHSS factsheet Pulmonary Rehabilitation: frequently asked questions (PDF).