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Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Table of Contents

Treatment Overview

Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD combines different treatments to:

Pulmonary rehabilitation—"rehab" for short— will not reverse the damage to your lungs from COPD. But it will help you do your daily tasks, such as dressing, grocery shopping, and walking, more easily.

There are many different kinds of pulmonary rehab programs. Some are done in the hospital. Some are done at home.

Health professionals who may be involved with these programs include:

Supervision and structure

Pulmonary rehab is usually supervised and structured. This means that it will include evaluation of your symptoms and treatment, short-term and long-term goals, education, support, and supervised therapy programs.

Evaluation and goals

Your rehab team will look at your symptoms and current treatment to make sure that you can get the most out of the program. They also will identify other concerns, such as heart problems, that might affect your ability to exercise and to perform daily tasks.

Then you and your team will set short-term and long-term goals to meet your specific needs. For instance:


Understanding COPD—how it progresses and is best treated—makes it easier to live with and manage the disease. Rehab programs generally include education for both you and your family about:


Support and encouragement from friends, family, and your health team are crucial in helping you stay with your rehab plan.

Supervised therapy programs

Therapy programs are the heart of pulmonary rehab. They are created just for you, depending on your needs and goals.

What therapy programs are used in pulmonary rehab?

Help to quit smoking

If you still smoke, stopping is the most important therapy program. Quitting smoking can slow damage to your lungs. Your rehab team can help you find the right program for quitting, whether it involves medicine, counseling, and/or support groups.

For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.


Exercise training for COPD often includes aerobic exercise, such as walking or using a stationary bike, and muscle-strengthening exercises for your arms and legs.

Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. People with COPD may also have heart problems that limit their exercise choices. You may need medical supervision when you start the program.

For more information, see:

Breath training

Breath training can help you take deeper breaths and reduce shortness of breath. You must practice breath training regularly for it to work.

Three basic breath-training methods are diaphragmatic breathing, pursed-lip breathing, and breathing while bending forward. They can be used to help you get through periods when you feel more short of breath.

Learning to eat well

Eating well is important to keep up your strength and health. Problems with muscle weakness and weight loss happen often in severe COPD. If you lose too much weight, you can get even more short of breath and become even less active. Over time, you could become so weak that you need to depend on others for daily living. For more information, see:

What To Expect

An ongoing pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) program can help you function better over the long term. Each program should set short-term and long-term goals to help you keep track of changes and successes. This makes sure that the program continues to meet your needs.

Why It Is Done

Pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) is recommended for people who have lung problems such as COPD.

Pulmonary rehab helps most people who have COPD. It especially helps if you were recently in the emergency room or hospital for a flare-up (exacerbation).

How Well It Works

Pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab):

To work well, a rehab program should last at least 6 weeks. The longer the program is, the better it works.


There is little or no risk to these programs if they are well supervised.

Credits for Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Current as of: October 26, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Ken Y. Yoneda MD - Pulmonology

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