When you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), everyday activities can become challenging. Breathing difficulties can make the simplest tasks seem impossible. You may find certain things exacerbate your symptoms, such as exposure to pollen, dust, and perfumes.
There’s no cure for COPD, but getting on the right treatment can help you manage the disease and improve your quality of your life. It's also important to follow a healthy lifestyle to keep your body strong and your respiratory system out of harm's way.
Here’s a look at a few healthy lifestyle tips to live well with COPD.
1. Quit smoking
If you're a smoker living with COPD, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Many people with COPD have a history of smoking cigarettes. Quitting won't cure the illness, but it can help slow the progression of the disease and make it easier for you to breathe.
Talk to your doctor about medications to help curb cravings as well as nicotine replacement therapies. Take steps to avoid secondhand smoke and exposure to dirty air and airborne irritants.
2. Get active
You might be concerned about working out with COPD. It can be challenging, and strenuous or heavy exercise might trigger breathlessness. You might not be able to run a marathon, but gentle workouts can improve your respiratory strength and breathing.
Start with short walks, light stretching exercises, and other activities that don’t irritate your breathing. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Also, bring a rescue inhaler when you exercise in case your symptoms act up.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Being overweight can make it harder to breathe. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can stimulate weight loss, which may improve symptoms of COPD.
Eating large meals or being too full can also make it difficult to breathe. Rather than heavy meals, eat smaller meals throughout the day.
Also, avoid any foods that make you feel gassy or bloated. These side effects can make breathing problems worse.
4. Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water is important in keeping mucus thin and preventing it from building up. For many people, a good daily goal is six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Talk with your doctor about a good daily goal for you.
However, be careful not to drink too water much at one time. Getting full from too much water can make breathing harder. Instead, spread out your water consumption over a day, and limit liquids with meals.
5. Improve indoor air quality
Banning smoking in your home is important. You should also steer clear of any perfumes, cleaning products, and personal care products with strong odors. These can trigger coughing or shortness of breath.
Opt for natural, non-toxic items instead. Make sure you vacuum your carpets regularly, and periodically steam your curtains and other fabrics.
Using an air purifier can also reduce airborne pollutants and allergens in your house. Choose air purifiers and vacuum cleaners that have a HEPA filter.
6. Get a flu shot
Respiratory infections can make COPD worse. Talk to your doctor to see if you’re a candidate for the flu shot. If so, get a shot each year around October or November.
You can also ask your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine. Take steps to prevent getting the common cold, which can cause complications like pneumonia or bronchitis. Avoid sick people, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face with your hands.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer before eating and after shaking hands with someone.
7. Learn breathing techniques
Ask your doctor about techniques to control your breathing during flares.
Pursed-lip breathing can open up your lungs, allowing you to take in more air. For this technique, fix your lips as if you’re about to whistle. Breathe in slowly through your nose and count to two. Next, breathe out through pursed lips and count to four. Repeat this technique up to five times to control your breathing.
Also, talk to your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. This type of rehab teaches you different ways to breathe. The purpose is to strengthen your respiratory muscles so you can enjoy more activities without breathlessness.
8. Get a portable oxygen tank
Oxygen therapy may start to interfere with the quality of your life. You might have difficulty carrying a large oxygen unit on errands and end up spending a lot of time at home.
Switching to a lightweight, portable oxygen unit can make it easier to move around when you're away from home. Activities like going to restaurants, running errands, and even traveling can become a lot more convenient.
9. Use a humidifier
Being diagnosed with COPD puts you at risk for bronchitis, which is when your body produces a large amount of mucus.
Breathing becomes harder when mucus collects in your airways. Using a humidifier is helpful because it adds moisture to the air. Keeping the air in your home moist can loosen mucus, allowing you to cough it up.
10. Join a support group
Even if your doctor and family members provide a great deal of support and encouragement, it’s comforting to speak to people who understand what you’re going through.
Living with COPD can cause depression and anxiety. You may feel overwhelmed at times. Joining a support group provides an outlet to chat with people who also live with this condition. You can share your experiences, offer tips for living with COPD, and more.
COPD is a lifelong disease. Following your doctor’s treatment plan is your first line of defense in managing the condition, but healthy living is also important. It may slow the progression of this illness, as well as reduce the risk of complications like respiratory infections, heart problems, and lung cancer.