To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Table of Contents

Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Treatment Overview

Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD combines different treatments to:

Pulmonary rehabilitation—"rehab" for short— will not reverse the damage to your lungs from COPD. But it will help you do your daily tasks, such as dressing, grocery shopping, and walking, more easily.

There are many different kinds of pulmonary rehab programs. Some are done in the hospital. Some are done at home.1

Health professionals who may be involved with these programs include:

Supervision and structure

Pulmonary rehab is usually supervised and structured. This means that it will include evaluation of your symptoms and treatment, short-term and long-term goals, education, support, and supervised therapy programs.

Evaluation and goals

Your rehab team will look at your symptoms and current treatment to make sure that you can get the most out of the program. They also will identify other concerns, such as heart problems, that might affect your ability to exercise and to perform daily tasks.

Then you and your team will set short-term and long-term goals to meet your specific needs. For instance:


Understanding COPD—how it progresses and is best treated—makes it easier to live with and manage the disease. Rehab programs generally include education for both you and your family about:


Support and encouragement from friends, family, and your health team are crucial in helping you stay with your rehab plan.

Supervised therapy programs

Therapy programs are the heart of pulmonary rehab. They are created just for you, depending on your needs and goals.

What therapy programs are used in pulmonary rehab?

Help to quit smoking

If you still smoke, stopping is the most important therapy program. Quitting smoking can slow damage to your lungs. Your rehab team can help you find the right program for quitting, whether it involves medicine, counseling, and/or support groups.

For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.


Exercise training for COPD often includes aerobic exercise, such as walking or using a stationary bike, and muscle-strengthening exercises for your arms and legs.

Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. People with COPD may also have heart problems that limit their exercise choices. You may need medical supervision when you start the program.

For more information, see:

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. COPD: Using Exercise to Feel Better.

Breath training

Breath training can help you take deeper breaths and reduce shortness of breath. You must practice breath training regularly for it to work.

Three basic breath-training methods are diaphragmatic breathing, pursed-lip breathing, and breathing while bending forward. They can be used to help you get through periods when you feel more short of breath.

Learning to eat well

Eating well is important to keep up your strength and health. Problems with muscle weakness and weight loss happen often in severe COPD. With COPD, people who are very underweight, especially those with emphysema, are likely to die sooner than people who are at a normal weight.2 For more information, see:

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. COPD: Keeping Your Diet Healthy.
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. COPD: Avoiding Weight Loss.

What To Expect After Treatment

An ongoing pulmonary rehab program can help you function better over the long term. Each program should set short-term and long-term goals to help you keep track of changes and successes. This makes sure that the program continues to meet your needs.

Why It Is Done

Pulmonary rehab is recommended for people who have lung problems such as COPD.

Pulmonary rehab helps most people who have COPD. It especially helps those who use oxygen therapy and have often had to go to the emergency room or hospital.

How Well It Works

A review of research shows that taking part in pulmonary rehabilitation:3, 1

To work well, a rehab program should last at least 4 weeks. The longer the program is, the better it works.2


There is little or no risk to these programs if they are well supervised.

What To Think About

The success of pulmonary rehab relies on the relationship between you and your health team. It is important that you work with your team, take an active role in the program, and understand the importance of staying with your program.

Although this treatment can improve your daily life, it does not reverse the effects that COPD has had on your lungs or other organs such as your heart. It does not cure COPD. It trains your mind, muscles, and heart to get the most out of damaged lungs.

Complete the special treatment information form (PDF) to help you understand this treatment.



  1. Maltais F, et al. (2008). Effects of home-based pulmonary rehabilitation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Annals of Internal Medicine, 149(12): 869–878.

  2. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (2010). In Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Available online:

  3. Lacasse Y, et al. (2005). Pulmonary rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.

Credits for Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised November 29, 2011

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.