Pulmonary rehabilitation

Also known as PR or pulmonary rehab

Key points about pulmonary rehabilitation

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is an education and exercise programme to help people with chronic breathing problems such as COPD to manage your breathing and increase your energy.
  • it's effective in improving the quality of life and reducing hospital admissions of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • It can be used for other chronic respiratory conditions such as sarcoidosis, bronchiectasis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis.
  • Programmes focus on education and exercise. They usually last 6–12 weeks.
  • The programme teaches you how to use what you learn to look after yourself after it ends.
Older man blows into machine to check lung capacity
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This 2-part series aims to encourage people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung problems to participate in the pulmonary rehabilitation programme. Doing exercise is an effective way of reducing your symptoms and improving your overall health.

Video: Understanding Pulmonary Rehabilitation Part 1

This video may take a few moments to load.

(King's College Hospital, UK, 2007)

Video: Understanding Pulmonary Rehabilitation Part 1

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Kings College Hospital, UK, 2007)

Pulmonary rehabilitation classes are run by physiotherapists and respiratory teams. They are often held at local hospitals or community centres 2 or 3 times per week. The 2 main components of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme are exercise and education.


An individual exercise programme is designed for you and takes your health into account. The programme is gentle at first and increases as your fitness improves. You may be given home exercises so that when the programme ends you will know how to stay fit at home.

If you prefer not to exercise, the physiotherapist can discuss other activity options such as Sing your lungs out(external link), a community-based singing group for people with lung disease. 


The education session covers information and tips on topics such as:

  • your lung disease or condition and how to manage it
  • how to eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • energy-conserving techniques
  • breathing strategies
  • psychological counselling and/or group support.

Attending a programme won't cure your lung disease or completely ease your breathing problems, but it can help you function better in your daily life. Pulmonary rehabilitation improves the quality of life and reduces hospital admissions of people with COPD.

Taking part in pulmonary rehabilitation can improve your fitness and muscle strength. This makes you feel more confident to do things. It helps use the oxygen you breathe more efficiently and helps you cope better with feeling out of breath. It can also help you feel better mentally.

Both smokers and non-smokers can benefit from attending pulmonary rehabilitation, as the programme focuses on improving quality of life.

Ask your GP or nurse about a pulmonary rehabilitation programme in your area. There are a range of programmes around the country, including some offered by local DHBs or branches of the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation(external link) that are tailored for Māori or Pasifika people.

You can search for a service in your area here (type the words 'pulmonary rehabilitation' in the search box).

Jeannie's story

Jeannie Sullivan started smoking when she was 21. She started with a packet lasting a fortnight and slowly moved onto a packet a day by her late 30s. Jeannie is proud to say she finally stopped smoking about 10 years ago.

Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Jeannie thought she had asthma so went to her GP and was told she had emphysema or COPD.

Jeannie says one of the best things that ever happened to her was going to pulmonary rehabilitation. She looked forward to the twice a week classes and socialising, getting fit and learning about how to manage COPD. Read about how it changed her life: One of the best things that ever happened to me – going to rehab!(external link) Asthma Foundation, NZ, 2013

Lynn's story

Lynn's story 'I thought, I can either be miserable or I can live life to the full'(external link) NHS Choices

Video: Pulmonary rehabilitation for chronic lung conditions

This video is about pulmonary rehabilitation. The first part of the video (up to 8 minutes) has simple exercises that you can do at home. Thereafter the video has information about changes you can make to improve your symptoms, such as exercising, quitting smoking, breathing techniques, etc. This video may take a few moments to load.

(NHS Forth Valley, UK, 2017)

Video: Pulmonary Rehabilitation Exercises at home

This video may take a few moments to load.

(NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, UK, 2020)

Video: Exercise for COPD: Improve your strength and mobility

This video may take a few moments to load.

(NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, UK, 2021)

The following links have more information about pulmonary rehabilitation. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Pulmonary rehabilitation(external link) NIH – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US
Pulmonary rehabilitation(external link) Australian Lung Foundation


Pulmonary rehabilitation free programme – only available for Auckland (ADHB region) The Whanau Ora Community Clinic, NZ
Pulmonary rehabilitation – factsheet(external link) Lung Foundation Australia, 2018
Pulmonary rehabilitation – patient information(external link) American Thoracic Society, 2013


  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation for people with COPD(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2017

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Sharon Leitch, GP and Senior Lecturer, University of Otago

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