Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a challenge, but it isn’t one that needs to get in the way of a regular life. With a good diet, the right care, and some patience, you can live with it.
You’ve probably noticed that exercising is harder. You may get more infections. You might even wake up some mornings gasping for air.
But you have many ways to manage these challenges. Consider these tips for everyday living with COPD:
Though some nonsmokers do get COPD, smoking is the main cause of the condition.
For those who still use cigarettes after their diagnosis, know that it’s never too late to stop. It may be the most important action you can take to save your lungs. It’s the only proven way to keep COPD from getting worse.
Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Tools like nicotine gum, patches, or prescription medicines may make it easier than trying to stop without help.
Improve Your Breathing
With COPD, your lungs might have been hurt over time by things like smoke, air pollution, and aging. Now, they may not be so “springy” and can’t move enough oxygen to your blood. So the biggest challenge to life with COPD is often lack of oxygen.
One way to counter that is to start with breathing exercises. Not only do they increase the oxygen in your system, they can help lessen any anxiety you might feel.
There are two key breathing exercises you should try:
- Pursed-lips breathing. Breathe in through your nose for 2 seconds. Pucker your lips. Blow air through your mouth for about 5 seconds. This exercise slows your breathing, keeps your airways open, and helps boost oxygen.
- Abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing. Relax your shoulders. Put one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. Inhale through your nose, making sure your stomach expands. Slowly breathe out through pursed lips, pressing on your belly.
Relax your body before doing these exercises, and repeat them several times.
Your lungs are more sensitive when you have COPD, so it makes sense to stay away from anything that can irritate them. That includes secondhand smoke, air pollution, car exhaust, chemical fumes, bug spray, paint and varnish, cleaning products, mold and mildew, wood smoke, and dust. Even pleasant odors such as perfumes, fragrances, and air fresheners can irritate your lungs.
If you can’t avoid them, wear a mask or use a fan to blow fumes away from you.
If you have allergies as well as COPD, steer clear of triggers like dust, pollen, and pet dander. Talk to your doctor about treating your allergy symptoms so they don’t make your COPD worse.
You already know that exercise is good for you. It improves sleep, helps with weight loss, and keeps you fit. But maybe you thought you couldn’t exercise if you have COPD. That isn’t the case. You can do things like:
- Stretching. Hold a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds a few times a day. Use the breathing exercises. You can do stretches as an exercise or use them as a warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise. Stretches can make you more flexible, help prevent injury, and get your heart pumping.
- Aerobics. This doesn’t have to be a high-intensity workout. A 30-minute walk or swim a few times a week can boost the amount of oxygen in your system.
- Resistance. Strength exercises -- which you can do with exercise bands, weights, or even working against your own muscle resistance (isometrics) -- build muscles and ease breathing.
Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. They’ll tell you if you should use a breathing device and how to pace yourself. (Start slowly!)
Make sure you follow your doctor’s directions on when to use your oxygen.
What About Sex?
This good form of exercise is also one of the most fun. But prepare yourself a bit:
- Don’t have sex after a big meal or after you drink alcohol.
- Keep the room cool.
- Let your partner be more active.
- If you use oxygen, don’t cut back. In fact, keep it on the entire time. In addition, use an inhaler about 5 minutes before you start. It will reduce wheezing.
Don’t exercise or have sex if you have a fever or nausea, feel chest pain, or are out of oxygen.
Diet is equally key to managing your COPD.
For starters, eat right. A dietitian’s advice may help. Follow a high-fiber diet -- about 20 to 35 grams a day -- with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, bran, and pasta. Foods that are high in fiber take longer to digest and help control glucose levels.
Some other nutrition tips to remember:
- Keep a good body weight. The issues linked to being overweight are well-known, but being underweight is also bad for your health. When you have COPD, it can drain your energy and make it easier for you to get infections.
- Cut the salt, and drink plenty of fluids. They help keep your mucus thin. A low-salt diet means you don’t retain those fluids.
- Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D. As they say in the milk ads, those vitamins and minerals keep your bones strong.
- To keep energy levels high, eat lots of small meals instead of three big ones, avoid junk-food snacks, and do some light exercise before you eat.
COPD means you have a higher risk of complications from an infection like a cold or the flu. Learn the warning signs of an infection -- such as fever, more shortness of breath than usual, and more coughing -- so you can call your doctor right away.
To help yourself stay well:
- Wash your hands often.
- Clean your medical devices, such as oxygen equipment.
- Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot and the vaccine for pneumonia.
- Stay away from anyone who’s sick and from crowds during cold and flu season. Consider wearing a mask over your nose and mouth.
Follow Your Treatment Plan
Treatments for COPD can include lifestyle changes, oral and inhaled medicines, oxygen therapy, and surgery. Though there’s no cure for the condition, you can manage the symptoms.
Follow your treatment plan, and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns.
Use a COPD Symptom and Treatment Tracker
When you’re sitting in a doctor's office, it can be hard to remember the details about your health. But with COPD, those details matter. Your description of your COPD symptoms -- as well as your medicine use and lifestyle -- will guide your health care provider’s choice of COPD treatment.
Regularly print copies and fill out the COPD log so that your health care provider can monitor how your symptoms and daily activities affect your life. This simple tool provides useful information to your doctor and allows you to take part in your COPD treatment.
COPD Symptom Tracker (PDF)
You didn’t get COPD overnight. The condition took years to take root, and there’s no cure. But if you start slowly with these tips and don’t push yourself too fast, you should have an easier time with it.