When you have shortness of breath caused by COPD, it’s hard to imagine embarking on a regimen of exercise training in a pulmonary rehabilitation class. After all, if you’re frequently out of breath, particularly when exerting yourself, how can you exercise? Even if you’ve been told that exercise will improve the symptoms caused by COPD, pulmonary hypertension, or interstitial lung disease, how can you perform the actual exercise you should be doing, without running out of breath before you accomplish anything?
The first step is to enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, where you will receive guidance, coaching, and assistance as you embark on your exercise regimen. The beauty of such a program is that it helps you manage your breathing problem as you increase your stamina and decrease your breathlessness. The program will teach you to be “in charge” of your breathing, instead of your breathing being in charge of you. The techniques you’ll learn will include pacing your breathing with your activities, proper use of your medications, and making the most of your communications with your health care provider.
Best of all, when you exercise during a pulmonary rehabilitation program, you’ll be performing exercises designed specifically for you, and the staff will supervise you as you work. You’ll start at a level that you can handle, whether that means initially exercising while sitting, or getting right on a treadmill from the beginning. It all depends upon your condition and the amount of work that you can perform without getting short of breath. The goal will be to strengthen your muscles so that over time you’ll be able to exercise with greater intensity or for longer periods of time without becoming breathless or overtired.
The length of your pulmonary rehabilitation program depends upon your needs. Remember that it’s important to attend every session because you will be increasing your exercises as you are able while the program staff monitors your performance. The more consistent your exercise sessions, the more constant your improvement. In general, most pulmonary rehabilitation programs meet two or three times a week and last between four and twelve weeks, sometimes more.
The first step is to consult with your health care provider, who will evaluate your current state of health, your lung function test results, your current activity level, and your ability to participate in the activities you’d like to do – and perhaps most important, your willingness to participate and to stick with the program.
Most definitely! When you participate in a rehabilitation program, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to meet others who also have breathing problems, giving you the opportunity to share your concerns and successes with others who are living with lung disease just as you are. The beneficial effects of group support and camaraderie cannot be underestimated.
Ask your health care provider for a referral to a qualified program. If you live in or near Torrance, California, you might be referred to a program run by one of PERF’s board members! If so, we’d love to work with you!