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This article was written in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. You can read the full article on their website: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/pulmonary-rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a supervised medical program that helps people who have lung diseases live and breathe better. You may need pulmonary rehabilitation if you have a lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). During the program, you will learn exercises and breathing techniques.

Who needs pulmonary rehabilitation?

Your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation to help you breathe easier and improve your quality of life for certain lung conditions such as COPD, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, and cystic fibrosis. It can also improve daily life for people who have scoliosis or other health problems that affect how well the lungs work.

Your doctor may also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation before and after surgery for a lung transplant or lung cancer.

What are the benefits?

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you gain strength, reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression, and make it easier to manage routine activities, work, and outings or social activities that you enjoy.

A Path to Breathing Better Infographic

This infographic introduces what you can expect from pulmonary rehabilitation and how it can benefit you.

What are the risks?

Pulmonary rehabilitation has few risks. In rare cases, physical activity during the program can cause problems, such as injuries to your muscles and bones. If serious problems occur during the supervised sessions, your pulmonary rehabilitation team will stop the physical activity right away, give you the appropriate treatment, and contact your doctor.

What happens during pulmonary rehabilitation?

To help design your pulmonary rehabilitation plan, your healthcare team may do one of the following tests:

  • Exercise stress test to measure your oxygen level, blood pressure, and heart rate while you exercise
  • Breathing tests to check how well your lungs are working
  • Six-minute walk test to measure how far you can walk in six minutes

You may have pulmonary rehabilitation in the hospital or a clinic, or you may learn physical therapy or breathing exercises to do at home. You may also use activity monitors or smartphone-based lessons or monitoring.

Your pulmonary rehabilitation plan may include the following training and education:

Breathing techniques

You may learn specific techniques such as pursed lip breathing, yoga breathing, or breathing with computer-aided feedback. With these techniques, you can better control your breathing and avoid feeling out of breath, especially when you are physically active or under stress. You may also learn ways to help clear mucus from your lungs.


In group or individual sessions, your providers can answer questions about your lung disease and offer guidance for how to manage it.

  • You may learn more about how the lungs work and effective ways to take your medicines.
  • You may learn to recognize the signs of a flare-up early and develop a plan to avoid or manage one.
  • If you smoke, your team may be able to help you quit.
  • You may learn how to conserve your energy and avoid feeling short of breath by finding easier ways to do daily tasks. This may include ways to avoid reaching, lifting, and bending, or ways to avoid or relieve stress.

Psychological counseling

People who have a chronic (long-term) lung disease may also experience depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems. Individual or group support can offer training in stress management.

Exercise training

Exercise training aims to strengthen your back, arms, and legs, as well as the muscles you use to breathe. Training can also help you build stamina and flexibility, making it easier to do everyday tasks and the things you enjoy.

Your healthcare team may recommend using medicine to open your airways, or they may recommend adjusting your regular oxygen therapy during physical activity.

Nutritional counseling

You will learn what foods to eat and how to prepare meals to manage your condition and feel your best. Nutritional counseling can help ensure that you are getting the right nutrients in the proper amounts. A dietitian may also recommend a weight-loss plan or nutritional supplements or medicines to help you build muscle.

How long is a pulmonary rehabilitation program?

Usually, pulmonary rehabilitation is a series of 2 or 3 weekly sessions lasting several weeks or months.

At the end of your program, your healthcare team will give you tests to check your lung function again to see if your breathing has improved. Some of these tests, such as exercise tests, will be the same ones you had at the start of your program.