Skip to content

This information was reviewed and approved by Russell P. Bowler, MD, PhD, Irina Petrache, MD (2/28/2021).

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program for people with chronic lung diseases like COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It will allow them to be as active as possible.

Pulmonary rehab is aimed to improve quality of life by:

  • Decreasing respiratory symptoms and complications
  • Encouraging self-management and control over daily functioning
  • Improving physical conditioning and exercise performance
  • Improving emotional well-being
  • Reducing hospitalizations.


Components of Pulmonary Rehab Programs

Most pulmonary rehab programs include:


Team Approach to Pulmonary Rehab

Most formal pulmonary rehab programs include a team of health care providers working together, like doctors, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, psychosocial staff and dietitians. The team evaluates each person's overall physical and emotional status, and then develops an individual program for him or her. The doctor, a specially trained registered nurse, a rehabilitation specialist or a respiratory care practitioner coordinate the program.



Exercise is a key part of pulmonary therapy. Exercise can improve the function of your heart and lungs. Exercise can also strengthen the muscles used for breathing to decrease your shortness of breath. It is common for people with lung disease to limit physical activities because they are fearful of becoming short of breath — but when you are inactive, the strength of your muscles and heart declines. Pulmonary rehab helps you pursue activities to the fullest extent of your abilities and helps you maintain physical fitness and regain control of your breathing. Exercise training can take place one-on-one or in a group setting. It may include walking, stationary bicycling, water exercise or simple aerobics. Breathing training, relaxation techniques and energy conservation for many daily activities are also addressed as part of pulmonary rehab.



Education is an important part of a pulmonary rehab program for both you and your family. Education may include one-on-one teaching, written materials and group classes. Videos and other visual aids may also be used. Teaching sessions with a health care provider are very important. The sessions will help provide you with information about your specific medications, treatments and self-management at home. Learn about our adult patient education classes at National Jewish Health


Emotion Management

A number of emotions can interfere with daily living for people with COPD. These include anxiety and depression and feelings of loss. These emotions can also increase shortness of breath. Studies show that depression is common because of the limitations caused by the chronic lung disease. Counseling and medication can help you and your family cope with the chronic disease. Classes on managing stress, relaxation and living with chronic illness are offered at National Jewish Health. National Jewish Health also provides a support group or you and your family.



Weight management and nutrition are important issues for people with chronic lung disease. Some people may weigh too little. Some people may weigh too much. Shortness of breath and fatigue can interfere with your ability to eat a balanced diet. The amount and type of food, as well as the timing of meals, can cause increased shortness of breath. A dietitian can offer practical suggestions for healthy nutrition, food selection and food preparation. Individualized diet plans may be developed when problems such as fatigue, shortness of breath, swallowing or poor appetite interfere with good nutrition.


Rehab Program Logistics

There are many differences in the scheduling, length and individual components of pulmonary rehab programs. Medicare and other insurance plans provide varying levels of coverage. If you are interested in pulmonary rehab, discuss this with your health care provider, and ask about information from your insurance program. Your local American Lung Association or hospital may know about programs in your area. Important questions to ask about a pulmonary rehab program include:

  • Do I need a referral from a doctor?
  • Is there active involvement by a team of health care providers?
  • What services does the program offer?
  • How long is the program?
  • What activities can I expect?
  • What is the insurance coverage?

For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.