The present multicentre study evaluates the differences in efficacy between a 3 month rehabilitation programme including drug treatment, and a 3 month control period of drug treatment only, for asthmatic patients and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The programme was run by physiotherapists in eight local practices, and included exercise training, patient education, breathing retraining, evacuation of mucus, relaxation techniques, and recreational activities. In a randomized controlled trial with a cross-over design, the effects of rehabilitation were evaluated 3 and 6 months after baseline measurements in terms of exercise tolerance and quality of life (QOL). Exercise tolerance was assessed using submaximal cycle ergometer tests and 6 min walking tests. QOL was evaluated by means of the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire (CRDQ). After 3 months, the patients who started with rehabilitation showed significant improvements in endurance time (421 s) and cardiac frequency (6 beats.min-1) during cycling, walking distance (39 m), and total CRDQ score (17 points) compared to the control group. These improvements were still significant after 6 months. Additional analysis indicated that the asthmatic patients and the patients with COPD responded to rehabilitation in a similar way, with the exception that there was a greater improvement in walking distance for asthmatics. Improvements in exercise tolerance were not significantly correlated with improvements in QOL. Rehabilitation of patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in local physiotherapy practices improves exercise tolerance and quality of life.