Why Do You Need Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD?
When you’re diagnosed with COPD, you have two choices: you can sit in the corner and let the disease take your life away or you can make the best out of the hand you've been dealt.
Pulmonary rehab is a stepping-stone to taking charge of your disease and having an improved quality of life. By undertaking pulmonary rehab, you’re starting a chain of events that will gradually improve your overall fitness and strength.
We know professional athletes benefit from having efficient muscles. Efficient muscles are stronger and use oxygen more efficiently. The same applies to people with lung disease — the more improved our muscle efficiency, the better our use of oxygen, the less breathless we become, the better we feel, the more we can achieve in our day-to-day lives.
This is why we need pulmonary rehab. Patients concerned about being breathless need not worry if they are in a well-run rehab clinic as professionals will monitor your vital signs to make sure nothing goes wrong. Remember: even the best pro athletes experience breathlessness and they know that it’s all part of improving their fitness. We as COPD patients are no different.
What to Avoid
I’ve had plenty of experience with pulmonary rehab since I was diagnosed with COPD — contacting clinics where the information I was given on the structure and timing of the program wasn’t clear; getting referred and having to make extra calls to follow up or being told to talk to someone else; and turning up excited to start my program only to find out it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
Once, I attended what I thought was going to an advanced pulmonary rehabilitation class, only to find it was actually a one-on-one session with a physiotherapist who put me through the six-minute walk test, wrote me an exercise program to work on alone, and asked me to come back in three weeks.
The program was very poorly written and in all honesty, I wouldn’t use it or suggest anyone else use it. One of the glaring faults for me was the inclusion of a weights program with no mention of what weights to use.
What to Look for in a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic
A good clinic has to align with your ideals. For me, that includes healthy eating, education about the disease, taking your medication properly and plenty of exercise.
Patient monitoring is a must, involving regular checking of heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and oxygen levels. It's also important to check how the patient is feeling especially if they’re new to pulmonary rehab.
Dietary and weight loss or gain advice is also an important aspect of what a good rehab clinic should offer. Getting your weight to its ideal level is high on the list of priorities to enable you to manage your COPD. If the clinic has a dietitian available for advice, you know it's looking at their patients in a holistic way. Perfect!
Another very important feature should be an emphasis on regular exercise and a program that works towards building a patient’s exercise capacity. Many patients tend to become stuck in a rut or drop out of exercise programs for a couple of reasons: either finding the program too difficult or finding it boring and failing to motivate them, so it's important to have some variety in the exercises.
Ongoing consultation with the patient to find their favored exercise, as well as what they'd like to achieve, is an important tool to maintain motivation. Creating a fun environment in which to exercise is also important on a social level. I've experienced many hours of training solo and would much prefer group sessions with people of similar abilities, working hard together but having fun doing it.