7 Pulmonary Rehab Exercises You Can Do at Home

The lungs and heart are vital in your overall health, wellness, and quality of life. Together these organs, alongside your blood vessels and blood, are able to provide the trillions of cells within your body with an adequate amount of oxygen, nutrition, and waste product removal.

In the event that something reduces the efficiency of this system, it can cause a real problem within your body. A lung that has reduced efficiency must work much harder and require more effort to keep up with the body's demands. If it cannot keep up, it can cause problems like muscular atrophy, reduced energy levels, and a general inability to perform tasks that may be physically taxing.

Below is a closer look at pulmonary rehab, what it is, some exercises that can be done at home, and how it may be right for you.

What Is Pulmonary Rehab?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that aims to help improve the cardiopulmonary health of individuals with health problems that impact their ability to breathe efficiently and get oxygen to the body's tissues. This rehab program utilizes monitored exercise training, health education, and support to help slow disease progression and help improve the overall quality of life of individuals impacted by chronic lung disease.

Those enrolled in a pulmonary rehab program are typically referred by their healthcare provider. Pulmonary rehab is a complementary treatment that can help improve the standard of cardiopulmonary health to help reduce the likelihood of readmission or help improve the chances of a positive outcome.

What Are Some Pulmonary Rehab Exercises To Do at Home?

Pulmonary rehab has traditionally only been available at a physical rehabilitation facility, but today the possibilities are endless thanks to the power of technology and Carda Health.

Carda Health is a virtual cardiopulmonary rehabilitation provider that utilizes technology to monitor a patient’s vital signs while being walked through exercises to ensure that they are able to get exercise within safe limits.

The ability of exercise physiologists to monitor vital signs remotely allows for some added luxury, like the ability to do pulmonary rehab exercises safely within the patient's home. Below is a closer look at 7 pulmonary exercises that may be done at home.

1. Belly Breathing

A common reason for an individual to enroll in a pulmonary rehab program is for COPD. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and it involves a decline in the ventilatory efficiency of the lungs. In essence, the lungs cannot move air in and out of the lungs efficiently to maximize gas exchange and blood oxygenation that occurs in the alveoli.

As a result, the individual may find it more difficult to breathe and may need to exert additional effort to breathe adequately, which is known as dyspnea. When it becomes more difficult to breathe, individuals tend to tolerate exercise to a lesser degree.

Inspiratory muscle (IM) weakness contributes to exercise intolerance and dyspnea in those with moderate to severe COPD. The muscles responsible for expanding the lungs can become weakened in COPD patients.

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is an exercise that can help to train inspiratory muscle groups to help increase the strength of inspiration. The exercise is easy and only requires you to focus on expanding the belly during inhalation rather than the chest.

IM training can not only improve inspiratory muscle strength and endurance, but it may also help improve functional capacity, dyspnea, and quality of life which will likely lead to improvements in the ability for you to perform day-to-day tasks easier.

2. Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a pulmonary rehab breathing exercise that provides individuals with a viable technique for dealing with episodes of shortness of breath. The exercise involves breathing through the nose regularly and slowly exhaling for a slightly extended period of time through pursed lips.

The breathing technique typically follows an inhalation through the nose for two counts, followed by a controlled exhale through pursed lips for four counts. The exhale should be light and should resemble how you would blow out a candle. Once mastered, this technique can be utilized to help get breathing under control during an episode of shortness of breath.

3. Weightlifting

Resistance training can help improve muscle strength and endurance, which can benefit individuals with COPD who may experience muscle weakness and atrophy due to a low exercise capacity.

Improving the strength of skeletal muscle can help not only improve the quality of life and mobility of those with COPD but can also help to reduce instances of dyspnea when performing activities of daily life. In particular, strength training focused on the upper body can be particularly helpful for individuals with COPD who may experience greater dyspnea while performing activities that involve the upper extremities.

4. Arm Raises

Arm raises are a form of skeletal muscle training that can help improve the tolerability of upper body exertion for individuals with pulmonary issues like COPD. These exercises won’t cure dyspnea from upper body exertion, but they can help to increase tolerability and improve the muscular strength of the arms.

5. Leg Extensions

Some of the most important skeletal muscles within the body are the largest. The muscles of the leg play an important role in your daily activities, and taking the time to work and strengthen them is well worth the effort, especially for individuals with COPD or other pulmonary disorders.

Leg extensions involve extending the legs straight out in front of the body and then lowering them back down. While this is a strengthening exercise, it also can act as an aerobic exercise that can help improve pulmonary health.

6. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a form of Chinese martial art that has been practiced for centuries. Tai Chi involves slow, controlled movements and deep breathing. The practice of Tai Chi can help to reduce stress and anxiety in addition to providing good exercise to help with flexibility and balance.

7. Gentle Stretching

Stretching may not seem like it could benefit an individual with reduced lung function, but the reality is that it may be able to help. Individuals with pulmonary diseases tend to have very tight muscles in and around the chest. This, over time, can lead to a stooped posture and can actually reduce the effectiveness of breathing.

Gently stretching may help to relax these muscles and facilitate a better posture conducive to proper ventilation.

How Often Should You Do Pulmonary Rehab Exercises?

In general, it is recommended to do pulmonary rehab exercises at least three times a week, although the specific frequency and intensity will depend on the individual's specific condition, tolerability to rehab exercises, and long-term goals. If done consistently, regular exercise for pulmonary rehab, health education, and support can make a significant impact on your heart and lung health to allow an individual to start living better with respiratory disease.

Is At-Home Pulmonary Rehab Effective?

Virtual pulmonary rehabilitation programs utilize remote monitoring technology that is sent to the patient to monitor key vital signs during exercises and other physical activity. This eliminates the need for in-person appointments and unnecessary contact with staff for vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At-home pulmonary rehab can be an effective way for individuals with lung conditions to manage their condition and improve their quality of life. Carda Health offers a tailored rehab program to support individuals in their pulmonary rehab journey. The program includes health education, support from a dedicated exercise physiologist, and access to a range of exercises and activities that can be done at home.

Why schedule appointments three times a week at a physical rehab clinic when you can simply sign up and schedule an appointment from home and work towards improving your health in the comfort and safety of your own home?

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that pulmonary rehab can be an important part of managing a lung condition and improving physical and overall health. By incorporating a variety of monitored pulmonary rehab exercises into a regular routine, individuals can improve their strength, endurance, and overall well-being.

Sources:

Pulmonary Rehabilitation | NHLBI, NIH.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) | American Lung Association

Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects | NCBI

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