Tips for Living with COPD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: June 2023

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can have a huge impact on many aspects of people’s lives. While living with COPD is challenging, there are some tips that may help make it easier.

Protecting your lungs

Avoiding triggers can help reduce lung damage and prevent COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups. Triggers for COPD include smoke, air pollution, dust, and fumes. If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do for your COPD is to quit.1

Respiratory infections can also worsen COPD symptoms and cause flare-ups. You can prevent infections by:1

  • Staying up-to-date on vaccines like those for the flu or pneumonia
  • Avoiding people who are sick
  • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly or using hand sanitizer

Managing COPD

An important part of managing COPD is taking your prescribed medicines and treatments. However, other things can also help make managing COPD easier. Breathing exercises and coughing techniques to clear mucus can make breathing easier. Examples include:2

  • Pursed-lip breathing
  • Belly breathing
  • Huff cough

You can learn about these techniques and others at a program like pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehabilitation is an educational program for people with COPD. Participants learn to live better with COPD, improve their strength, and improve breathing habits.3

Eating healthy

Eating a healthy diet can make you feel better overall and improve your breathing. The food we eat is the fuel for all the processes in our bodies, including breathing. When we pick good fuel, it helps everything run smoother. Tips for eating a healthy diet include:1

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Try to eat complex carbohydrates, like whole grains
  • Avoid sugary foods
  • Limit foods with trans fats and saturated fats, like fat that comes from animal products
  • Eat foods high in fiber, like nuts and seeds

If you have questions or concerns about your diet, you can meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). You can even find an RDN who has experience with people who have COPD. An RDN will be able to help you make a meal plan based on your needs, food preferences, and goals.1

Staying active

Motivating yourself to remain active if you have COPD can be difficult. But exercising when you have COPD keeps you more fit and can keep some symptoms from getting worse. Staying active can also help improve your mental health.4

Before you start, talk with your doctor to make sure exercise is safe for you. Tips that may help with an exercise routine include:4

  • Find a type of exercise you enjoy
  • Set goals for yourself
  • Try to exercise 5 to 6 times per week
  • Include stretching, strength training, and endurance exercises

Managing your mental health

Managing COPD can be emotionally draining. People with COPD are more likely to have anxiety or depression. But there are resources available that may be able to help.1

If you feel you are struggling with your mental health, consider reaching out to a professional. You may want to meet with a therapist or counselor. A mental health professional may be able to help you process your emotions. You could also consider joining a support group for people with COPD.1

Other things that can help your mental health include:1,2

  • Eating healthy
  • Staying active
  • Maintaining social connections
  • Relaxation techniques like visualization, meditation, or breathing exercises
  • Taking time for hobbies and interests

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