What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?
The American College of Chest Physicians and the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation have defined pulmonary rehabilitation as follows:
“Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is an evidence-based, multidisciplinary, and comprehensive intervention for patients with chronic respiratory diseases who are symptomatic and often have decreased daily life activities. Integrated into the individualized treatment of the patient, pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to reduce symptoms, optimize functional status, increase participation, and reduce health care costs through stabilizing or reversing systemic manifestations of the disease.”
In non-doctor-speak, pulmonary rehabilitation is a treatment program that combines exercise, nutrition counseling, breathing and airway clearing technique training, and other forms of patient education with the primary goal being to improve a patient’s ability to breathe and lead a more fulfilling life.
Studies have shown that pulmonary rehabilitation:
- Improves overall quality of life
- Reduces shortness of breath episodes
- Boosts stamina and endurance
- Improves muscle mass and physical strength
- Relieves symptoms of breathlessness and chest tightness
- Improves balance and coordination
Studies Prove It
Hundreds of studies conducted around the globe over the past three decades have demonstrated the effectiveness of pulmonary rehabilitation in reducing COPD symptoms and improving patient physical conditioning. Check out our recent pulmonary rehabilitation articles from our Breathe Better Blog:
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A sampling of other key studies regarding pulmonary rehabilitation's effectiveness are as follows:
- A 1981 study from Thorax found that 39 people who exercised for six weeks had improvement in shortness of breath and coughing, as well as peak oxygen uptake, as compared to people who didn’t exercise (36:200-203).
- In a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers had 119 patients walk twice a week for eight weeks. At the end of the trial period, they found that those people who walked had an 85% increase in exercise endurance as well as a 30% decrease in shortness of breath, 32% less muscle fatigue, and reduced risk of death (1995, 122:823-827).
- A 2009 study from BMC Pulmonary Medicine found that the 80 patients who engaged in pulmonary rehabilitation for three years saw a whopping 153 percent increase in maximum exercise endurance on an ergonomic cycle, as well as an astounding 110 percent increase in sustained cycle time (2009, 9:26).
- Similarly, a 2009 study from German researchers published in Wien Klin Wochenschr found that in 100 COPD patients who followed a pulmonary rehabilitation program for one year enjoyed a 38 percent increase in exercise endurance, as well as a 33 percent increase in upper body strength and a 54 percent increase in lower body strength. (2009;121(5-6):189-95)
- A 2000 study from the European Respiratory Journal found that 43 people with mild COPD who performed pulmonary rehab for 12 weeks enjoyed a 30 percent increase in muscle strength, measured across 10 specific strength training exercises (15:92–97).
- Similarly, a 1999 study from the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine found that when patients with COPD did aerobic and strength training for 12 weeks, they had an eight to 20 percent increase in muscle strength, with an 8 percent increase in thigh muscles, a 15 percent increase in the quadriceps, and a 20 percent increase in the upper chest (159:896–901).
- Additionally, studies have shown that upper body strength training helps improve oxygen capacity. A study from Chest found that 21 COPD patients who performed simple arm exercises of lifting their arms 90º in front of them experienced a 29% increase in their volume of oxygen (1992, 101: 336-340).
- According to another 1991 study from the journal Chest, patients with low FEV-1 values were as likely to see an improvement in their shortness of breath (known in medical terms as dyspnea) as those with a high FEV-1 value (99:798-804). In other words, people with more severe airflow obstruction were as likely to see improvement as people with better lung function.