What is pulmonary rehabilitation?
Your doctor wants you to walk more and you think they're nuts. Don't they understand how hard it is for you to breathe? They do - intellectually - but they aren't living through what we do day after day with using oxygen.
What the doctor does know is that exercise and pulmonary rehabilitation will help - they've seen other patients improve and read the medical studies. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to walk further or take a shower without getting out of breathe? Here's why from a patient who's been there - me - and what it is really like.
First, it feels so good to move. It’s what our bodies are designed for. Moving helps bring a sense of normalcy back into life. But the first step is definitely the hardest!
Second, gains. Before pulmonary rehabilitation, I felt so physically bad, I couldn't even begin to imagine how much better I could feel. I hadn't given up but I sure had resigned myself to a more limited life. And it's just so easy to sit. I got in a real rut. Consistent exercise, a few times a week, made everything easier. It improved my mood and refilled my "tank of hope." (story continues below).
Third, comfort. 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. Being short of breath also makes me feel uncomfortable. I also get a lot of mucous in my lungs and the exercise helps move it up and out!
Fourth, support. I felt so alone with my respiratory disease but I was afraid to go to pulmonary rehabilitation because I didn't want to be judged for being out of shape. I couldn't have been more wrong! 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. No one asked me to do anything extreme. Most of the machines are non-weight bearing and I could sit while I exercise. I also rotated among exercise machines and never had to plod along on a machine I hated.
Fifth, socialization. The supportive atmosphere and the ability to exercise with other people using oxygen was amazing! 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.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is all about reducing fear and increasing what you can do. I felt safe there. And welcome. The respiratory therapists running the exercise session checked my blood pressure and oxygen levels before and during my 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.
Pulmonary rehabilitation really works! I'm living proof. I was able to walk 1,190 steps during the American Lung Association Fight For Air Climb!