“This Is The Best I’ve Felt in Years” – BRHS Classes Breathing Life into Locals with Respiratory Problems

Lorna and Barry tackle some light weights under the guidance of BRHS Exercise Physiologist Kath Hempenstall. Photos: Jake Lynch/BRHS


The day that Barry was able to walk the full length of his property and back, he knew that the classes must be working.

Since the end of March, Barry has been attending twice-weekly exercise and education sessions at BRHS for people that are having difficulties with their breathing.

The group of 6 or 7 locals, mostly in their 50s or 60s, take walks around the block near BRHS’ Ross Street Campus or do light weights and exercises in the purpose-built gymnasium, all under the expert guidance of BRHS’ Pulmonary Rehabilitation Team.

These Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes are for people who often find themselves short of breath because they have a lung condition.

Between walks and weight sessions, the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Team talks with the participants about how they’ve been going, providing encouragement and support and teaching them ways to not let breathing and respiratory issues take over their lives.

The banter is fun, familiar and supportive. After a few weeks of classes, the group has become close, like a team all working toward the same goal.

“That was a big achievement for me,” Barry said, of the walk around his Bairnsdale property. “These last few years I just haven’t been able to do that. I’d have to stop. I wondered if I’d ever be able to do it again.”

Walking is a key part of the exercise regime in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes.


Barry says that although doing regular light exercise in the classes has made a difference, he credits the Pulmonary Rehabilitation team for helping him understand what was actually happening with his lungs and his breathing, and ways he could work around it to do the things he wanted to do.

“For example, I like doing my woodworking, but I started to have a hard time standing at my workbench for a long time,” he said. “These guys suggested I change the setup so I could sit, and that’s made a big difference.”

Barry says that as he began to suffer from a variety of ailments later in recent years, he didn’t fully understand the implications of what they would mean for his quality of life.

“But the way these guys explain it to you, it’s really helpful,” Barry said, gesturing to the BRHS staff.  “They use simple language that anyone can understand, and they make you feel comfortable.”

Like Barry, Deb said the Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes have given her back a sense of control over the breathing issues that were ruling her life.

Plagued by the chronic inflammatory lung disease known as COPD, Deb was referred to the classes by her lung specialist.

Just six weeks later, she says the classes have not only renewed her physically, but also mentally.

“This is the fittest I’ve felt in years, since I was in my 30s,” Deb said, in the middle of a workout on the stationary bike. “I’ll admit it, I’ve been sitting on my backside for the past 3 or 4 years. But now I’m feeling good, I’m feeling confident. I feel like there’s hope.”

“Doing this class makes me feel stronger, and more empowered. I’m not allowing COPD to win.”


Deb said she was facing the prospect of having to have a lung transplant. But since committing herself to a regular regime or exercise and rehabilitation, she has brought her lung capacity back up to 60 percent.

“Who’s to say I can’t get up to 80 percent?” she asks. “Doing this class makes me feel stronger, and more empowered. I’m not allowing COPD to win.”

Deb is also living with cancer.

“I can’t do much about that, but there is a lot I can do to improve my life, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Exercise Physiologist Kath Hempenstall says everyone that comes to the Pulmonary Rehabilitation sessions has a different reason for being there.

The health issues they are battling are different, and their goals and motivations are varied and personal.

“Some of them like the community of the group, and some of them prefer to do things by themselves,” Kath said. “Everyone is different. So we set them up whichever way works best for them.”

“It’s also really important that the participants are able to keep working at it when they are at home, so we focus a lot on education and making sure people walk out of here ready and able to keep their rehab going.”

“Many people aren’t comfortable in a big gym, for example, or following complicated workout schedules. We work hard to make sure none of this is intimidating or overwhelming.”

In addition to the regular exercise sessions, the Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes also include education sessions by specialist BRHS staff on food and diet, physiology, medicines, occupational therapy, and continence, among other things.

Kath said that despite participants coming to the classes for very different reasons, the overwhelming majority had reported notable improvements in their breathing, and their quality of life.

“The realisation that a little regular exercise can improve their breathing, very quickly, has been really good at motivating these guys, because they can see that they actually have some control over the things they can and can’t do in their lives,” Kath said. “When they tell you about the little differences they’ve been able to make since they began the classes, the improvements, it’s wonderful to hear.”

“We work hard to make sure none of this is intimidating or overwhelming,” Kath said. “Many people aren’t comfortable in a big gym, for example, or following complicated workout schedules. One of the most effective forms of exercise is just walking. It’s free, you don’t need any equipment, and you can do it by yourself or with others. Dancing is another really good form of exercise. Whatever gets people moving in a way they are comfortable with, that’s what we’ll do.”

Your GP or specialist can refer you to BRHS’ Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes, or you can self-refer.

For more information phone 5152 0231 and ask about the Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes.