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What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

woman wearing a nasal cannula for oxygen therapy_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited
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Melissa Egts, Inventor



Your patient is afraid of pulmonary rehabilitation. Or maybe you are? The decision to get moving again in an exercise program can be scary. It can seem impossible, especially when you get short of breath showering or walking to the mailbox. So what is pulmonary rehabilitation? A full pulmonary rehabilitation program is more than exercise. A well-thought out pulmonary rehabilitation program gives you comfort, support, socialization, and a sense of normalcy and control while also guiding you to make physical gains!

Why should you go to pulmonary rehabilitation? Well, physical gains, of course! But another good reason is it feels so good to move your body. It’s what our bodies are designed for. Moving helps bring a sense of normalcy back into life. And the decision to go to pulmonary rehabilitation is a positive step that will improve your mental health and mood.

cartoon woman using oxygen to exercise

You can do it!

Pulmonary rehabilitation Equipment

​Imagine walking into a gym full of exercise equipment and full of people you don't know. Scary, right? But don't worry, kindness and comfort is ahead.

The first step - deciding to go to pulmonary rehabilitation - has already been made. For so long you've been struggling to breathe and feeling alone with your disease. The respiratory therapist who greets you will guide you through the process, and the paperwork, develop a program just for you, and train you on each machine. There is no need to fear being judged for being out of shape. The respiratory therapists who run the programs make sure patients are comfortable with the exercises and are there to adjust oxygen levels or suggest rest as needed. You will never be asked to do anything extreme. Most of the machines are non-weight bearing and you can sit while you exercise. And you'll likely rotate among exercise machines. That means you'll never have to plod along on a machine you hate. 

woman wearing an oxygen tube across her face

Pulmonary rehabilitation exercises

patient with uses supplemental oxygen to walk up stairs

​Personally, I get a lot of comfort from exercise during pulmonary rehabilitation. I get a lot of air trapping because my lungs can get air in but they can’t get all the air back out. It's like how a balloon feels right before it pops. Exercise helps empty my lungs of the “bad” air so I can take deeper breaths and eliminates the discomfort. 

Specifically, though, I've been through two pulmonary rehabilitation programs. Treadmills are available, but I don't see many people using them. My favorite, and hardest, is the arm crank. You know how pedals on a bike rotate? Imagine a machine like that, chest high, but for your arms instead. 

It is a challenge, but a good one. When I first went on oxygen just moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer made me severely short of breath. Many people who use oxygen have trouble cleaning a bathtub, for example. That's because when you add arm movement it can be very aerobic. This machine as part of your pulmonary rehabilitation helps.

Does pulmonary rehabilitation work?

family celebrates completion of a marathon

Does pulmonary rehabilitation therapy work? Yes, it does! This spring my family and I were able to climb 1,190 steps during the American Lung Association Fight For Air Climb! 


During pulmonary rehabilitation, I usually use a rowing machine and exercise bike. Unlike most people, I do use the treadmill as a challenge. I crank an oxygen tank all the way up to 8 liters per minute and go as fast as I can for a mile. Weight machines are available, too. I've used them but I've had to ask. I think the preference is for patients to do aerobic exercise but I love lifting weights and it is aerobic, too!

Once you start to make consistent gains, your respiratory therapist might ask you to increase your level of effort by increasing the exercise machine's resistance or asking you to go faster. That's ok! Remember communication is important. Pulmonary rehabilitation is for you. If what they ask you to do is not comfortable - talk to them and adjust your program!

Pulmonary rehabilitation near me

​The supportive atmosphere and the ability to exercise with other people using oxygen at a pulmonary rehabilitation program is great. I know the first time I went through pulmonary rehabilitation it was a relief to be around other oxygen users and not feel like everyone was looking at me and the nasal cannula running across my face. Plus, the respiratory therapists running the pulmonary rehabilitation exercise session check your blood pressure and oxygen levels before and during your your exercise session. For me, this reduced the fear that I was exercising with low oxygen levels, which I know can hurt my heart. The level of care is extraordinary and I made a lot of friends.

I found my pulmonary rehabilitation program through my doctor. He prescribed it, the office organized it, and my insurance paid for it (yay!). So, the best place to find a recommendation for pulmonary rehabilitation starts with asking your physician.

If you live in a small town where there isn't a pulmonary rehabilitation program, then what can you do. I know of two choices. You can make your own pulmonary rehabilitation program by finding and watching videos you can find on-line. There are also companies that offer a full program of exercises, breathing techniques, nutrition, and information you can subscribe to on-line. I've used and recommend them!

an example of a website that promtes pulmonary rehabilitation
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