Pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes physical training, breathing exercises, and education, may help people with asthma reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Although you can manage asthma symptoms, the disease is often lifelong. Doctors typically recommend medications to help manage symptoms, but a treatment plan may include other elements.

Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is a multidisciplinary program including exercise, education, and psychological support. Experts already recognize PR as an effective treatment for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But PR may also help people with other chronic lung diseases like asthma.

Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is a comprehensive therapy program. PR can help people with various chronic respiratory diseases, but a healthcare professional will tailor your regimen to your specific needs.

During PR, you’ll work with a multidisciplinary team that could include:

The goals of PR for people with asthma include:

  • improving your physical and mental health
  • increasing knowledge about the disease
  • sustaining behaviors that improve your health
  • increasing adherence to your asthma treatment plan
  • reducing the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms
  • improving lung and overall function
  • increasing perceived quality of life

The American Thoracic Society identifies 13 essential components of PR. To satisfy these components, a typical PR program will involve some combination of the following:

Exercise training

One aim of PR is to improve your exercise capacity. Recommended exercise programs could include endurance training (like walking or biking) and resistance training (with weights or resistance bands).

Exercise programs last a period of weeks to months. You’ll undergo baseline pulmonary function and exercise testing, and follow-up tests to check your progress.

Breathing exercises

A respiratory therapist can teach specific breathing techniques to help manage your symptoms. In some cases, this can also include exercises to strengthen the muscles that help you breathe.

Educational, behavioral, and psychological supports

These efforts aim to improve your quality of life, symptoms, and treatment adherence. They could include:

Research in both adult and pediatric asthma has suggested positive outcomes following PR. A recent comprehensive review found that when exercise-based PR is added to routine treatment for asthma, it can consistently improve:

  • Quality of life: reported on self-surveys such as the Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ)
  • Exercise tolerance and aerobic fitness: as per 6-minute walk and VO2 max testing
  • Some aspects of lung function: seen on pulmonary function tests

Research has also suggested further beneficial trends in children and adults with asthma, including:

  • better asthma control
  • lessened asthma symptoms (wheezing, shortness of breath)
  • improved anxiety
  • reduced bronchial inflammation

Falls, injuries, or cardiac events can always occur during exercise programs. But when a doctor provides pre-screening clearance and supervision for PR, the rate of complications is very low.

Depending on the severity and frequency of your asthma symptoms, your doctor can help design your ideal treatment plan.

PR is a supplement to traditional asthma treatment, which includes:

  • quick-relief bronchodilators, like albuterol
  • long-term control medications, like inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators
  • identification and avoidance of environmental asthma triggers, like allergens, smoke, and fragrances

What are the qualifying diagnoses for pulmonary rehabilitation?

According to the American Lung Association, PR may help anyone with a chronic lung disease who frequently experiences shortness of breath and whose symptoms affect their daily life, even with medication.

In addition to those with asthma, people with the following diagnoses may benefit from PR:

Does pulmonary rehabilitation help with shortness of breath?

Yes, PR may improve shortness of breath as well as aspects of lung function in some people.

Can your lungs get better after pulmonary rehabilitation?

There is no cure for asthma. But when PR is added to routine medical care for asthma, you may see improvements in some aspects of your lung function, along with a reduction in some of your asthma symptoms.

What are the exclusions for pulmonary rehabilitation?

Sometimes, underlying medical problems can make PR inappropriate. This includes conditions that would prevent safe exercise, like uncontrolled heart disease or significant bone and joint problems. Significant cognitive or psychiatric problems could also make effective PR impossible.

Your doctor can help you decide if PR is right for you.

How long does pulmonary rehabilitation last?

A PR program commonly meets multiple times per week and lasts about 4–12 weeks, though programs may vary in length.

PR combines exercise training, breathing techniques, and behavioral interventions. It may be helpful for people with a variety of chronic lung conditions, including those with disabling asthma.

Research indicates that PR may improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and some aspects of lung function in people with asthma.

Talk with a doctor to see if you or your child could benefit from PR for asthma.