Living with COPD

Quincy AdamCOPD Lifestyle

Living with COPD
A COPD diagnosis brings new challenges and will inevitably change the way you live. Though there is not yet a cure, there are things that you can do to help manage your disease and make living with COPD easier.

Avoid Exacerbations

One of the most important steps in managing COPD is avoiding flare-ups. The COPD Foundation stresses the importance of learning the early warning signs of an exacerbation so that you can take action and prevent them from getting worse.1

They include:

  • Wheezing more frequently than is normal for you
  • Coughing
  • More shortness of breath
  • Increased mucus
  • Change in color of mucus
  • Breathing changes, such as shallow or rapid breathing
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Fever
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion

Other things you can do that may help you avoid exacerbations include:

  • Visiting the doctor regularly
  • Taking medication as directed
  • Keeping up with your flu, pneumonia, and pertussis (whooping cough) shots
  • Washing your hands properly and using sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Avoiding crowds during flu season
  • Not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to avoid germs from entering the body
  • Getting proper rest to keep your immune system healthy
  • Drinking more water to help make mucus thinner

You should also try to stay away from irritants to keep flare-ups to a minimum. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute2 advise avoiding the following:

  • Cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke
  • Dust
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes

Also, call your doctor if you experience a change in symptoms and seek immediate medical care if your symptoms become severe.

Exercise and Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Physical activity plays an important role in managing COPD, with studies3reporting an improvement of symptoms in COPD patients who engage in regular exercise. You can enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program to find out more about COPD and how your lungs work. You will also learn exercise and breathing techniques that may help you manage your symptoms and stay active.

The professionals who lead pulmonary rehabilitation programs may include doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and registered dieticians. Your team will work with you to come up with a plan based on your specific needs and comfort level. Along with learning to function better, pulmonary rehabilitation also offers the opportunity to engage with others living with COPD.

Of course, speak to your doctor about getting started with exercise and pulmonary rehabilitation.


What you eat may have an impact on your COPD. According to the American Lung Association4, the right mix of foods may help you breathe easier. This is because of metabolism, which is the way that your body changes food to energy. The process of metabolizing carbohydrates produces the most carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used, while the metabolism of fat produces the least. You may be able to breathe easier by eating a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in fat. Speak to a registered dietician who specializes in COPD to come up with a meal plan of foods you enjoy, meet your needs and are easy to prepare.

Eating more food in the morning is a good idea if you find that you’re usually more tired later in the day—and vice versa. Rest before eating to ensure that you have enough energy to eat, and avoid foods that cause gas or bloating since that can make it harder to breathe. Breaking your food into smaller meals throughout the day can help you avoid feeling too full and short of breath after you eat.

Living better with COPD may be possible with some lifestyle changes. Learning to avoid flare-ups and how to eat and exercise can help to manage your disease.

1 COPD Foundation. Staying Healthy and Avoiding Exacerbations. COPD Foundation. Accessed March 16, 2015.2 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Living with COPD. NIH. Accessed March 16, 2015.

3 Casaburi R1, Porszasz J, Burns MR, Carithers ER, Chang RS, Cooper CB. Physiologic benefits of exercise training in rehabilitation of patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1997 May;155(5):1541-51. Accessed March 16, 2015.

4American Lung Association. Nutrition. American Lung Association. Accessed March 16, 2015.