Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a programme of exercises and advice for people who experience breathlessness. You will learn how to manage your breathing to help with daily activities.

What happens

A pulmonary rehabilitation course runs over a period of several weeks or months.  You will have one to two sessions a week with a small group of others with lung diseases. A team of physiotherapists, nurses and volunteers will design a programme of exercises and advice that is right for you. The activities will get harder as you get stronger.

Once you’ve finished your pulmonary rehab programme, you can carry on with the exercises at home.  To get the most benefit, you should do at least three sessions a week at home, of 20 minutes each.

If you have completed a pulmonary rehabilitation course in the past, you can ask to be referred for a course again.

A typical session

You’ll spend about half of each pulmonary rehabilitation session on physical exercise.  This includes a warm-up, strength and cardiovascular activities and then a cool-down.

Expect to get out of breath – you’ll always be monitored and you’ll never be asked to do more than you can do safely.  Depending on your fitness, you could be doing sitting exercises, standing exercises, weights, walking on a treadmill or using an exercise bicycle.

You’ll also get advice on pacing yourself and managing breathlessness in your daily activities.

I was sceptical at first of what pulmonary rehab would do for me but it has been amazing. The support and encouragement in the group was brilliant

Why do it?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a fantastic way to break the cycle of breathlessness.  Instead of avoiding activities that leave you out of breath, you push yourself to do more.  The result: you’ll become fitter, have more energy and feel less tired and breathless.

You’re likely to experience some of the following benefits too:

  • Less breathlessness when you’re resting and when moving around
  • Less anxiety
  • Stronger muscles
  • Daily activities such as housework, shopping, washing and dressing are easier
  • Improved mood
  • Able to walk for longer
  • Breathing is easier
  • An individualised exercise programme to continue at home

Pulmonary rehab and oxygen

People who use oxygen will be assessed to see if they need it during the session. Oxygen may help to increase how much exercise you can do. If you have been prescribed oxygen for exercise, often called ambulatory oxygen, take this along to the class.  Either a portable oxygen concentrator or oxygen cylinder can be used.

Pulmonary rehab was a revelation. I came out of the 8 weeks with a determination to keep active and cannot recommend it enough.

 Getting referred

We recognise that many patients have been unable to access local pulmonary rehabilitation services either due to a pause in the service because of Covid-19 or waiting lists mean a course is too many months away.

We recommend the following action;

  • Write to your health care professional and pulmonary rehab specialist (you can find them on most NHS Trust Websites) explaining your terminal diagnosis and as such you or your loved one should be prioritised for a PR Course. Email supportline@actionpf.org for some standard wording.
  • Join a support group.  Most meet virtually and many groups have a pulmonary rehab specialists join sessions and run through simple exercises
  • Keep moving.  It’s not the same as pulmonary rehabilitation, but regular walks, cleaning the house or some gentle exercise (the British Lung Foundation has exercises on their website) all contribute positively to keeping you well.

We are part of the Task Force for Lung Health that seeks to improve the provision of pulmonary rehabilitation for all people with respiratory diseases.

A new short film has been created by the Taskforce for Lung Health to explain to people with a lung condition the benefits of taking part in a pulmonary rehabilitation programme.

Information provided by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis (APF) is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s intended as general information only. APF is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any loss or damage suffered by users resulting from the information published on actionpf.org.

Further information for carers:

Your essential caring guide (PDF)
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