WHU Foundation Pulmonary Rehab session

Breathing new life. Transforming lives through COPD rehabilitation

The chronic obstruction of the lungs, known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), affects over one million people in the UK. This umbrella term encompasses various breathing conditions, with chronic bronchitis and emphysema being the most common, significantly impairing breathing function in those diagnosed. 

While COPD tends to worsen over time, it is highly manageable. Although there is no cure, effective management can greatly alleviate symptoms and slow disease progression. 

To support rehabilitation efforts, the West Ham United Foundation, in partnership with the East London NHS Foundation Trust, offers a free Pulmonary Rehab programme tailored for patients with COPD. This programme reintroduces individuals to low-impact physical activity to enhance their health and overall well-being. 

Christine, a lung cancer survivor, shared how the six-week programme played a crucial role in managing her symptoms. 

"My health wasn't particularly good before the programme," she recalled. "I had lung cancer the year before Covid hit, requiring the removal of a lung section. The following year, I underwent a similar procedure on the other lung. Naturally, my breathing was considerably affected." 

"The Pulmonary Rehab sessions significantly improved my breathing," Christine continued. "Tasks like housework and shopping are now much more manageable. Breathing techniques taught during the sessions have made a big difference; I stop less often and rely on inhalers less frequently. I can walk further and for longer periods." 

Christine at WHU Foundation Pulmonary Rehab sessions

COPD symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest tightness often hinder patients from performing daily activities and socialising. Emphasising the programme's social aspect, Christine continued: “Everyone was so friendly. Apart from the fact that the sessions help with everyday things and managing COPD, you meet other people and form friendships with people who are on the same journey and understand the condition. We have made plans to meet for coffee and keep that social aspect going!” 

For Lee, a recent programme completer, the social connections formed during the sessions were equally valuable. 

“Being in a group with other people with the same conditions really helps us feel socially included and supported,” he said. “I have seen other people on the programme come in at the beginning feeling quite reserved, including myself, and watched how they have opened up. Over the weeks the barriers were broken down and we all have the same condition and being able to share with each other was so helpful. 

“I have phone numbers now of people I would never have met and made friends with others who understand my condition as they are living with it too. Although family can be supportive, they don’t really understand in the same way someone who is living with the condition does.” 

I really enjoy the camaraderie, the sets of exercises we had to do, but mostly, I think the education talk after the exercise session
Lee, programme completer

Lee, who spends most of his time volunteering at church, was hospitalised after a severe bout of Covid which has left him with lingering breathing issues as a result of long Covid. 

Reflecting on the key takeaways from his six weeks at the Pulmonary Rehab sessions, Lee commented: “I really enjoy the camaraderie, the sets of exercises we had to do, but mostly, I think the education talk after the exercise session. 

“You think you know a lot about your condition, but you actually don’t, and having someone talk you through things is really helpful. The physios were great and really know their stuff. I have learned how to breathe properly, which has helped me enormously, because when I carry heavy shopping it can be a burden, but because of the advice and teachings, I have learned to control my breathing better. 

“All aspects of the programme and my time on the programme has been beneficial. I do things now without thinking too much about them. I would absolutely recommend the programme to those living with COPD, it will change your life!” 

If you or anyone you know lives with COPD, contact your GP for a free referral to the service.