Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe.

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which include shortness of breath, wheezing, and chronic cough, can make daily tasks more challenging. A person with this illness usually has both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These conditions result in less air flowing in and out of the lungs.

Everyday things that may not seem physically demanding can be difficult for someone with COPD. Eating, getting dressed, and doing household tasks can be hard to manage when a person has trouble breathing.

However, a COPD diagnosis does not have to mean that a person will lose their independence or have to stop enjoying their favorite activities.

This article discusses tips and lifestyle changes that can help people live with COPD.

Portrait of a young African-American doctor showing relaxation breathing exercisesShare on Pinterest
MixMedia/Getty Images

Though a diagnosis of COPD may be overwhelming, there are ways to make everyday life easier and more enjoyable.

Avoid pollutants

Avoiding airborne pollutants and irritants can help the lungs heal and function at their best.

People with COPD should avoid smoke inhalation and quit smoking if necessary. Reducing exposure to chemical irritants and pollution can also help people manage COPD symptoms.

Lifestyle planning

Living with COPD means learning how to manage symptoms and avoid situations that may worsen them.

Stress, anxiety, and rushing can lead to more shortness of breath or wheezing. Performing activities slowly and allowing extra time to complete tasks can help avoid this.

Talking with others

If others understand that certain activities may be more difficult for a person with COPD, they can provide support and compassion. This can reduce worry for people with the condition and allow others the opportunity to help when necessary.

With a new COPD diagnosis, symptoms may be confusing or even frightening. Being open with doctors and healthcare team members about symptoms and challenges helps people work through them, learn the best ways to stay healthy, and still take part in life’s activities.

Learn about COPD support groups here.

COPD and medical appointments

People living with COPD will need to attend regular appointments with their doctor and get used to new treatments. Developing a unique treatment plan is essential for living well with COPD. Treatment may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and education about COPD.

People with COPD sometimes have a large healthcare team, including doctors, nurses, therapists, dietitians, psychologists, and social workers. These professionals play an important role in helping a person with COPD stay as healthy as possible.

Many patients also have regular pulmonary rehabilitation appointments. This is a form of rehabilitation that aims to stabilize or reverse COPD’s physical or psychosocial effects.

Eating is a part of daily life, and people with COPD should follow a healthy diet to help with their condition. This can can help a person reach and maintain a moderate weight and provide the body with the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimum function.

Reviews show that a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can help improve lung function and reduce the risk of COPD.

A diet suitable for people with COPD does not have to be overly strict or complex. In general, people with COPD should focus on healthy whole foods, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh and frozen are ideal, but canned fruits and vegetables are also fine if they have no sugar, salt, or additives.
  • Whole grains: People with COPD should prioritize complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. Whole grain brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal are popular whole grain choices.
  • Legumes: Peas, beans, and lentils are common legumes that offer protein and fiber. If excess gas is an issue, a person may need to decrease or eliminate these.
  • Lean protein: Eggs, fish, poultry, soy, and milk are healthy sources of protein, which is important for a healthy immune system.

Many people with COPD will receive diet guidelines from their healthcare team. Following a healthy diet can strongly impact how a person feels and help them avoid lung infections and other complications.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Staying active with COPD may be difficult at first, but it is well worth the effort.

Physical activity as part of pulmonary rehabilitation can help improve a person’s breathing, exercise capacity, emotional function, and overall quality of life.

Many people with COPD may avoid exercise because they are afraid they will be short of breath or simply do not have the energy. If a person exercises less, their functional ability may decline. Over time, they may become unable to do much activity at all.

Though exercise cannot reverse COPD, it can help a person remain independent and healthy for as long as possible.

Mind and body exercises may also help people living with COPD reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression if these are present.

COPD breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are a special way of moving air in and out that can help relax the body and allow the lungs to take in more oxygen. These exercises help relieve immediate symptoms of COPD. They can also increase overall lung function.

Breathing exercises are a valuable tool for those with COPD. They can help a person remain active and involved in daily life.

The most common breathing exercises for COPD are pursed-lip breathing and belly breathing. A pulmonary rehabilitation specialist can demonstrate how to perform these exercises.

Learn more about breathing exercises for COPD here.

People with COPD need to stay as healthy as they can and should avoid illness as much as possible by:

  • washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and touching the face and after using the bathroom
  • getting vaccinated against COVID-19, flu, pneumonia, and pertussis, also known as whooping cough
  • avoiding contact with people who are sick
  • getting adequate sleep and drinking plenty of water

Being mindful of illnesses and germs can help avoid lung infections, which can be serious.

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

COPD is a chronic condition that can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. However, with the right treatment and lifestyle modifications, a person can often manage their symptoms and learn to live with their condition.

Eating a healthy diet, engaging in light activity, and following a tailored treatment plan can help a person manage their life with COPD.