Finding my mental and physical strength during pulmonary rehab

How a 6-week program changed my approach to exercise for my PF

Ann Reynoso avatar

by Ann Reynoso |

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At the beginning of this year, I was told to start pulmonary rehabilitation to help with my pulmonary fibrosis (PF). I was prescribed 12 sessions as an outpatient, which would take six weeks (two sessions a week) out of my life. I kept putting it off, always making excuses that I was too busy and had other priorities that needed my utmost attention.

In July, however, I decided to get off my fanny and take the plunge.

Though rehab is known to improve pulmonary symptoms, I couldn’t help but think it’d be a waste of my time. What could I possibly learn from it? Even though I’m living with PF, I can still handle the simple task of breathing. These were my selfish and inconsiderate thoughts about this process, but I followed doctor’s orders anyway.

Allow me to share with you my six-week journey into finding my spirited body, mind, soul, and strength.

The rehab journey

I knew I’d have to prepare myself mentally so that I could be physically capable of finishing a session. I’m not an athletic person. I’d have to pull out the big guns just to make myself go. Despite my preparation, I wasn’t ready for what was to come.

My first week was exactly what I feared it’d be: the hardest week of my life. I couldn’t get my mind and body to work together. The harder my mind wanted it, the harder my body resisted. My lungs weren’t ready for this cruel shock to the system. On my first day, what was supposed to be an hour session ended after only 20 minutes.

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My husband was allowed to be at my sessions, and it was nice having him there. His support gave me motivation to complete that first week, regardless of how difficult it was. And after that, each session was more challenging. I completed activities on the bike, stairs, treadmill, and elliptical machines. I also worked with leg and arm weights.

In my second week, I proved I was a contender to win an Academy Award for whiniest patient of the year. I continued to hesitate about going, making every excuse in the book to skip out on a session. I began to feel a buildup of annoyance over having to show up.

But once I got to the facility, I felt a wave of belonging as I saw others like me pushing themselves to their limits. I was inspired. When I started my program, I felt a rush. I wanted to do more, to push myself as the others were. In fact, I pushed myself so hard that my therapist began to worry. She asked me not to overdo it. But I wanted to take control of my body; I wanted power over my illness.

My third and fourth weeks demonstrated my physical stamina. I wanted to do more than I knew my body and lungs would allow. Thankfully, I was always provided with oxygen to assist me, and my heart and oxygen levels were constantly monitored. I’d be given five-minute breaks to drink water and have my blood pressure taken. My respiratory therapist was such an inspiration, and the whole support team was amazing.

The more difficult each session became, the more I pushed myself. I was always so exhausted that when I returned home, I felt the need for naps — and I never take naps during the day.

On my sixth and last week, I was excited to see the progress I’d made. I completed a whole hour of physical activity and felt much stronger. I was so proud of myself. I’d pushed harder than I ever had before, even before my illness. I was also motivated to continue my exercise; I knew I could take everything I’d learned and every inspiration with me. For once, my body, mind, and soul were content.

Moving forward

Since I’d been in such good hands at rehab, I wondered how I could continue that feeling of safety after I completed my program. Would the “normal world” accept me? I’ve never felt comfortable in a standard gym because I’ve always been overweight, and now I’d be bringing a disability into the mix while exercising without any manner of supervision. Would I panic? Would my anxiety creep up again?

Perhaps I’ll have a new tale to write about as I venture into this different world.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Janice Moore avatar

Janice Moore

Well done Ann - you are a great example of what can be achieved through exercise and determination. I have only recently been diagnosed with IPF, and have taught Dance Fitness for many years, but am now concentrating all my time on work in the Gym,
Pilates and trying to increase walking. This is the most difficult because of shortness of breath. I have always preached the benefits of exercise for over 50 years, and it is hard to believe that I have now become dependent on it for the quality of my life.
This is not a prescribed Rehab Gym, but through this Forum I have learned so much about what to do and am just getting on with it while I wait to see my Consultant face to face - only a phone conversation so far! All good wishes Ann - we must keep going. Janice in the UK.

Terri Gordy avatar

Terri Gordy

Great job, Ann! I also recently completed a 6-week pulmonary rehab program at my local hospital, going 3x a week. I really enjoyed working 1:1 under the guidance of a medical professional and miss the people there. They were all so supportive and encouraging. We bought a treadmill during the pandemic, but I didn't really use it much until I was diagnosed with ILD last summer. I'm immunocompromised, so gyms aren't great places for me -- too many germs. (At pulmonary rehab, I always wore a mask or a face shield and tried to stay several feet away from other patients.) I've been inconsistent with my walking, but I am working on getting back into a regular routine. I do best if I exercise first thing in the morning. By the end of the workday, I'm too worn out to exercise. I'm on supplemental oxygen for exercise only, and it does make a big difference. Lately, I've been reading more and more about the importance of exercise for lung patients. We must keep moving as Janice says! Best wishes to you both. Terri in the Midwest US

Allison Roohi avatar

Allison Roohi

My 81 year old mom was diagnosed with IPF last year. We had been waiting to get into rehab. When we got the call, she had suffered a severe cmpression fracture in her L3. It's been a few months and she's doing well. I'm her caregiver and always trying to cheer her on. She also had a tumor removed from her leg 2 weeks ago. Fighting so many things simultaneously is overwhelming. Your story is quite inspiring. Mom hid a lot of things when she was first diagnosed and refused O2 and rehab. Now there are no secrets. She is on O2 at night and waiting for rehab and physical therapy for her back when she gets a green light from the orthopedist. What is the therapy like? I don't know anyone who has had it. Is it walking? Breathing exercises? She can walk well. No walker or anything. I'm keen to know what to expect. I'm so worried that her other issues will hold her back from improving. Thanks very much to everyone here for sharing.

Ann Reynoso avatar

Ann Reynoso

Hello Allison. It is good to hear that your mom is getting her health back on track. When I began pulmonary rehab, I was asked to go in first for an overview of what I could expect. I also did a six minute walk, so they could create a program that is right for me. Through my whole program I used O2, which the provided. I walked on the treadmill, I did the elliptical cross trainer, weight lifting for my arms and legs, and stair stepping. I started with a low impact and build to as highest that I felt comfortable with. After I did my session (which is one hour), I was given a 30 minute educational session, where I learned facts on how to use my inhaler, my breathing machine, how to breath deep from my diaphragm, and I was given some simple tools to use at home for exercise. I really enjoyed having the personal touch of a respiratory therapist. I felt safe. I hope your mother finds that therapy will be of good help to her.

Terri Gordy avatar

Terri Gordy

Hi Allison! The rehab staff should design a custom program for your mom. They will probably do a 6-minute walk test at the beginning of her rehab and at the end to document her progress. My program consisted of walking on the treadmill; riding a NuStep, which is a recumbent cross trainer; bicep curls with free weights; leg lifts with ankle weights; stair stepping; breathing exercises, and balance exercises. The duration and reps varied depending on the day. I also received education each time about topics such as nutrition, sleep, breathing, mental issues, and other health issues. Best wishes to you and your mom.

Ann Reynoso avatar

Ann Reynoso

Hi Terri. You are correct on all points of a designed program for the patient. It is good to hear that you had a wonderful experience and gained insight on topics to help reach your rehab goals. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.


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