PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For those with breathing problems, exercise may seem out of the question.
But they can and should be active, under the guidance of pulmonary rehab, a therapy experts at Temple Health say is vastly underused.
Steve Metz of Northeast Philadelphia was unaware his lungs were struggling till he collapsed one day at work in 2017.
He thought it was a heart attack, but hospital tests showed something else.
"He (the doctor) said I have COPD, he says, and you're approaching Stage 3," Steve recalls vividly.
And Steve was getting worse so fast, he'd need a transplant soon.
As he waited for that, his doctor recommended pulmonary rehab.
"It is just more than exercise training," notes Dr. Omid Pourshahid, the medical director of pulmonary rehab at the Temple Lung Center.
Dr. Pourshahid says pulmonary rehab breaks the vicious cycle of deconditioning triggered by shortness of breath.
"They start to do less and less to try to avoid that threshold of getting short of breath. And subsequently, the less they do, the more short of breath they become," he says.
Pulmonary rehab patients get carefully supervised, tailored 1-hour sessions 2 or 3 times a week, and can help them develop the strength to tolerate medical procedures which could save their lives.
"They are safe, and they can still push themselves to get better every day," the doctor says.
There's also education on their specific disease, including breathing techniques, and nutritional support.
"It could actually be helping them to gain weight and not to lose the muscles," says Dr. Pourshahid.
Contact with other people who have similar diseases reduces the loneliness and isolation from being unable to do regular activities.
"There are studies showing that it reduces the number of admissions and exacerbations that they have," says the doctor, adding, "There are some studies that even show that it may reduce the chance of dying from those respiratory diseases."
Dr. Pourshahid has personally seen some big changes in patients.
"They are barely able to walk 500 steps a day. And by the end of 8 or 12 weeks program, they get to like average activity of 10,000 steps per day," he says,
Steve says it kept him strong for his long wait for new lungs.
'I'm over 6 foot. So anything over 72 inches, they have to find big lungs," he says.
He finally got them on June 1, 2023, and the return to rehab is helping him thrive.
"It's what kept me going. It's what's keeping me going. And if something's working, you don't fix it," Steve says emphatically.
His prime goal was to return to his family, and he did it.