10 Ways to Fight Fatigue Caused by COPD

How Can You Increase Your Energy Level When You Have COPD?

African American man sleeping in bed

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How can you cope with the all-too-common symptom of fatigue with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? Let's take a look at what causes fatigue in people with COPD and then share some tips on how to increase your energy level.

Understanding Fatigue

Fatigue—the subjective perception of generalized tiredness, exhaustion or lack of energy—is different than ordinary tiredness. It isn't the kind of tiredness which improves with a good night of sleep or even a good cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it is also a symptom which is poorly understood in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Fatigue can have a very significant effect on the qualify of life for people living with COPD. In fact, while dyspnea (the sensation of difficult breathing) remains the primary debilitating symptom associated with COPD, fatigue is almost as important when it comes to the negative impact of the disease.

Overall, fatigue occurs if roughly three times as many people with COPD as it does in the general population. For all of these reasons, it's important to discuss not only what may be causing your fatigue, but what you can do yourself today to better cope with this symptom.

Causes of Fatigue With COPD

Why do people with COPD experience fatigue? The answer isn't simple, and it's likely that there are many factors which work together to contribute to tiredness. In studies, the increased level of fatigue found in people with moderate to severe COPD is said to be associated with:

  • An increase in the severity of pulmonary impairment—The greater the effort required to breathe, the more energy is sapped from the body
  • A reduction in exercise tolerance—We know that exercise in even small amounts can reduce fatigue, and COPD can place significant limitations on getting that exercise
  • An impairment of quality of life
  • Depression—Depression is a well-known contributor to fatigue and is common in people with COPD

Additional studies suggest that the sensation of fatigue associated with COPD may be related to reduced time spent outdoors, the frequency of yearly COPD exacerbations, and the following alterations in functioning:

  • A decrease in weight and muscle mass
  • Hypoxemia, or a decreased supply of oxygen to the tissues, contributes to fatigue on a cellular level
  • Decreased strength and endurance
  • Decreased cognition—Fatigue due to COPD is associated with problems with memory and problem-solving
  • Repeated respiratory infections—Even those without COPD note a decrease in energy when coping with respiratory infections, and these infections are common with COPD

10 Ways to Manage Fatigue

Given the high levels of fatigue associated with COPD, it's fortunate that there are a number of fatigue-fighting measures you can add to your life every day.

Exercise Regularly

People who exercise regularly report lower levels of fatigue and an improvement in the quality of life than those who are more sedentary. Not only can exercise improve your life, but it is associated with a longer life expectancy for those living with COPD as well.

When it comes to exercise with COPD, a combination of endurance exercises (cardiovascular endurance) and flexibility exercises are important. When you consider your options, it's important to start slow. We know from all of the broken new year's resolutions worldwide that most people do not follow through on plans to entirely change their lifestyle. Realizing this, think of activities which you most enjoy. An example may be gardening. It's true that gardening can be an excellent form of exercise, yet many people "forget" they are exercising as they get excited about what they are creating. On the other hand, others find gardening to be a meaningless chore, and another activity would be best.

An activity many people enjoy is walking, and there are many benefits from walking with COPD. Think of ways to make it fun. Have you considered Geocaching? Geocaching is one way to create walking goals without realizing you are walking for your health. Do you have a friend or a family member you could walk with? Having someone to whom you are accountable may increase your chances of sticking with an activity.

Eat Nutritious Foods

You may remember the posters saying "you are what you eat" from childhood. There is actually a lot of truth in that adage, and a healthy diet packed with energy-producing foods can make a huge difference for people living with COPD and other chronic conditions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to eating a healthy diet. The important thing to know is that you don't have to change your entire way of eating overnight. It's often taking "baby steps" instead, which leads to a positive and lasting change in eating habits.

As with exercise, it helps to make good eating fun. Try to add a few fun and healthy foods to your diet each week. Some people make a goal of eating at least one cruciferous vegetable every day. Since COPD is an independent risk factor the development of lung cancer, you also want to add in some of these superfoods that are thought to reduce lung cancer risk, both for their prevention benefits and for their current benefits in helping your body handle the stress of COPD. Learn more about nutrition for people with COPD.

Eat Breakfast Every Morning

Eating breakfast each morning is important, just like we've always been told. Yet, with COPD, it can pack two punches. First of all, it can give you that initial energy boost often needed if you are coping with fatigue related to COPD.

A good breakfast, however, is a gift to your body that keeps on giving. A healthy breakfast, especially one which includes fruit and protein, can keep you from feeling the energy-draining effects of fatigue throughout the day.

Get Plenty of Rest

The National Sleep Foundation says that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. In fact, lack of sleep is strongly associated with increased levels of fatigue and a myriad of other health conditions, including obesity and diabetes.

The first step in ensuring good sleep is to practice good sleep habits. Ideally, you should go to sleep and get up at roughly the same time each day. Get rid of any outside light in your bedroom and reserve your bedroom for sex and sleep.

Stress reduction (discussed next) can be very helpful for those who cope with insomnia. It's best to eat dinner at least several hours before retiring. Also, keep in mind that both caffeine and alcohol can contribute to sleep problems.

There are plenty of ways that COPD can interfere with your rest specifically. Talk to your doctor about any of these concerns.

Reduce Stress

Stress is spoken of so often that you may have become immune to hearing the words "get rid of the stress in your life." Though these words may be worn out, the message is fresh and newsworthy. Multiple studies have found that stress management not only helps people live more enjoyable lives but is a great fatigue fighter.

The importance of stress relief in chronic disease management cannot be overemphasized. Reducing stress can decrease fatigue and anxiety and improve your overall quality of life, even with minor changes. If you're not sure how to get started, begin by checking out these ways to reduce stress in your life. After trying out a few of these methods, you may be interested in learning more about stress management, how it works, the benefits, and how to incorporate these measures into your day to day life.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Staying hydrated not only helps nearly anyone feel better but is extra important when you are living with COPD. Some medications, as well as things such as mouth breathing, can increase your fluid needs when living with this disease. Though hydration is so important, most people don't recognize how important it is until they become significantly dehydrated.

Dehydration can cause a headache, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, rapid heart rate and a host of other symptoms. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it is important to drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day. In addition, dehydration combined with heat and humidity can be dangerous for people living with COPD. Take a moment to learn how to stay cool and hydrated when the thermometer outside rises.

Ask Your Doctor About Vitamins and Minerals

You may want to ask your doctor if vitamin or mineral supplements are appropriate for you, particularly if your diet is lacking in vital nutrients. In general, however, supplemental vitamins have not been shown to improve symptoms or lung function in COPD.

A clear exception is vitamin D. We are now learning that the majority of people are deficient in this important vitamin, with a deficiency of vitamin D linked with many conditions ranging from osteoporosis to multiple sclerosis, to several cancers. Since people with COPD tend to spend less time outside (one of the ways in which we get vitamin D,) deficiency can be a problem.

Thankfully, there is a simple blood test your doctor can draw which will let you know if you are deficient. If you are deficient, there are few ways to raise your levels. Dietary sources include milk and fish, but it is very difficult to get enough through what you eat. Spending small amounts of time in the sun (for example, 10 minutes) before applying sunscreen, allows your body to absorb a good sized dose of this important vitamin. If your level remains low, your doctor can recommend a vitamin D3 supplement in order to raise your levels into the ideal, mid-range of normal.

Laugh Your Head Off

Laughter has many health benefits, including reducing stress and increasing pain tolerance. Why not try a little laughter to help reduce the fatigue in your daily life? If you're not sure how to get started, do a little brainstorming. Watch funny movies. Ask your friends to send you funny emails. Your best chance to find humor in your life, however, is probably by finding it by yourself and with friends in your day to day life.

Often times a stressful situation can be "reframed" to be comical. If you don't believe us, think of situations you now laugh about that were not laughable at the time. Reframing is a way in which a situation does not change, but your way of looking at it does. Practicing reframing strategies works double time as a source of humor and a stress reliever. Try it the next time you are feeling stressed.

Prevent COPD Exacerbations

There are many reasons that COPD exacerbations should be avoided, with exacerbation of fatigue due to the COPD exacerbation being just one. Not only do these exacerbations increase fatigue, but increase other problems that can lead to fatigue with COPD. Check out these thoughts on how to reduce COPD exacerbations today.

Spend More Time Outdoors

As noted earlier, spending time out-of-doors is a great way to absorb vitamin D, and a deficiency of vitamin D has been linked with a host of problems, even lung cancer. Most people probably don't need to read through study results to believe that people simply feel better when they spend more time outside. Sunlight even improves blood flow to the brain, influencing our ability to perform cognitive tasks such as remembering and making judgment calls.

A Word From Verywell

Fatigue, like dyspnea, affects all areas of life for a person living with COPD, including activities of daily living, social interaction, and sleep patterns. Effective management of fatigue requires increased awareness and a collaborative effort between people and their healthcare providers. It's important to talk to your doctor about your fatigue and make any adjustments needed, yet there are many things you can do yourself starting today.

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