Sporadic visits to the local doctor followed sometimes by changes in oral and inhaled bronchodilators and occasionally by the addition of steroids frequently does little to significantly improve symptoms and function in the disabled patient with COPD. As in other chronic diseases, the management of these patients is facilitated by a team approach in conjunction with general rehabilitation principles. The rationale and practical implementation of such a programme has recently been outlined by the American Association of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation. These are multifaceted programmes but a key component, as outlined above, is exercise training. In this brief review the various approaches available have been described. Controversy still reigns regarding the optimal modes of training and there are important differences among the several approaches. Two main groups can be delineated. One emphasises the detailed definition of the impaired physiology with therapeutic measures targeted to specific defects. There is good documentation that, conversely, unstructured programmes that use treadmill and free range walking and cycling also improve endurance for walking. Upper extremity training is of additional benefit. Programmes with as little as three sessions per week of 1-2 hours of low intensity activity have achieved success so we know that simple programmes can be helpful. Moreover, without the necessity for complex testing and training methods these programmes can be implemented with relatively low costs. Future investigations to examine the relationship between improved exercise capacity for walking and arm exercise on the one hand, and the ease of performance of activities of daily living on the other, will help to reinforce the effectiveness of exercise programmes.
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