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Living Well with COPD

About COPD
Be sure to include fresh vegetables or fruit with every meal.

A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Here are some tips for making lifestyle changes and developing healthy habits to live a more active life with COPD.

Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight are important parts of managing COPD. While it can be difficult to focus on this aspect of your life, eating well plays a big role in feeling good and staying healthy.

If you are underweight, focus on gaining weight. The average person requires approximately 50 calories per day for breathing. Individuals with COPD may expend 750 calories per day on breathing alone. This increases daily calorie requirements, making it difficult to maintain weight.

If you are overweight, focus on losing weight. There are many benefits of weight loss, including reducing shortness of breath by decreasing pressure on the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. A good weight loss program should include a variety of foods and physical activity.

Regular exercise can improve your heart, lungs, and muscles, and it can help you breathe easier and feel better.

There is no magic formula to maintaining your optimal weight. To lose weight you need to consume fewer calories than you expend, but many of us know this is easier said than done.

Try to eat small, frequent meals. This can help reduce shortness of breath caused by crowding of the diaphragm from overeating. Eating small, frequent meals also reduces incidents of reflux, which can lead to heartburn, indigestion, and discomfort with eating.

Eat a balanced diet. COPD can increase your requirements for calories and some nutrients. Proper nutrition helps your body’s immune response and aids its ability to metabolize medication properly. A balanced diet that includes every food group is essential. Be sure to include fresh vegetables or fruit with every meal.

Ask your doctor about meeting with a nutritionist to create a nutrition plan designed just for you. Not only will a nutritionist help with meal planning, but you’ll also have someone supporting and monitoring your progress.

An exercise program is another important step in managing COPD. It is common for people with lung disease to limit physical activities because they are afraid of becoming short of breath. But regular exercise can improve your heart, lungs, and muscles, and it can help you breathe easier and feel better. Many people with COPD enjoy walking, water aerobics, and riding a stationary bike.

People with COPD often use a metered-dose inhaler before exercise to decrease shortness of breath. Some people with COPD need oxygen therapy while exercising. Portable oxygen units are available. Talk with your healthcare provider about recommending an exercise program for you.

Before starting an exercise program, always talk to your doctor about your plan to be sure that it is safe, and then speak with qualified experts about establishing a weight control program. Then, start with slow, small steps rather than attempting a quick “lifestyle overhaul.” Changing lifelong patterns is a gradual process, and succeeding in many little steps can be encouraging, where failing at a quick major change is definitely discouraging.

Giving Up Smoking
This is the single most important thing you can do to help control your disease and prevent further damage to your lungs. Cigarette smoke contains about 4,000 harmful toxins that can irritate airways and damage lung tissue. When you quit smoking, your breathing and response to your medicines may noticeably improve. Even if you have smoked many years, you will benefit from quitting. And don’t be discouraged if you have tried to quit – one time or many times – in the past. More services and quitting aids are now available to help you quit and remain smoke-free.

Make a firm commitment to quit and start thinking of yourself as someone who doesn’t smoke. Talk to your healthcare provider about quitting and making a plan to help you quit. Your doctor can discuss the use of quit smoking medicines and your treatment plan for COPD.

Consider participating in a program that provides guidance and support for learning to live without cigarettes. Every state offers free telephone counseling through the Quitline (800-QUIT-NOW). In addition, there are many online and face-to-face group quit smoking programs. Check for programs offered by the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society.

Once you stop smoking, it is important to avoid being around tobacco smoke. This will help decrease irritation to your lungs. Plus, a smoke-free environment is healthier for everyone. Discuss the importance of making your environment smoke-free with family members and friends. Encourage family members and friends who smoke to quit. If they are not ready to quit, ask them not to smoke in your home or vehicle.


Source: National Jewish Health,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2011.