5 Lifestyle Tweaks to Help Manage COPD

Most importantly, quit smoking if you haven’t already.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—more commonly called COPD—is certainly a challenging condition that makes breathing difficult. But making the right lifestyle choices can significantly reduce the effect that COPD has on your life.

“Some of the common fears that people have when it comes to COPD is their ability to maintain their daily life activities,” says Margarita Oks, MD, pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health. “Both lifestyle and medication adherence are hugely important.”

1. Quit smoking.

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for COPD, but once you’ve been diagnosed, it’s still important to quit. Smoking with COPD can trigger flare-ups, and quitting is the most important part of treating COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similarly, try to avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible at home, at work, and in your social life.

2. Get moving.

It might seem counterintuitive, but regular exercise actually helps your COPD. Ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation, a formal exercise program to help people with lung conditions get physically active under guidance and supervision.

“But you don’t need to be part of that [rehabilitation] program in order to exercise. Walking is considered endurance training, so if you can do it for 20 or 30 minutes every single day, that’s good enough,” says Dr. Oks. Additionally, you can practice resistance training simply by lifting cans of beans.

In addition to helping your COPD, staying active will also help boost your overall health. Here are health benefits of exercise to know about.

3. Breathe with your belly.

Instead of taking shallow breaths to your lungs, practice diaphragmatic breathing—deep breathing that expands in the belly instead of the chest. “Diaphragmatic breathing that we do during yoga and even tai chi has been shown to help people feel better,” says Dr. Oks.

4. Eat nutritiously.

“When somebody has COPD, they can’t eat as much and end up losing a lot of weight,” says Dr. Oks. “To maintain that [weight], you need to be very cognizant of eating a very well balanced and healthy diet.” If weight loss is a concern, choose healthy high-fat foods and high-calorie foods, such as whole-milk yogurt, avocado, nuts, and nut butters.

Keep in mind that a well-nourished body is a better defense against infections, which can be very serious for someone with COPD, according to the American Lung Association. 

5. Keep up with your vaccines.

Another important aspect to prevent infections is getting your vaccines. This includes the annual flu vaccine and your pneumonia vaccines. Find out what vaccines are recommended for adults here, and talk to your doctor about which ones are appropriate for you.

“The diagnosis of COPD is definitely overwhelming, but it’s a disease that you can absolutely live with, that you can maintain a lifestyle with,” says Dr. Oks. “You can travel, you can see your children [and] grandchildren grow up, as long as you do whatever your doctors recommend.”