How to Conserve Energy if You Have COPD

Finding ways to conserve energy throughout the day can become an almost constant focus for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The airway inflammation and damage caused by COPD makes it harder for oxygen to reach the lungs and feed the muscles. As a result, people often feel weighed down by fatigue and have greater difficulty managing day-to-day tasks. The emotional impact of this chronic disease can also be draining.

This article includes 12 energy conservation techniques that can help you if you have COPD. From practical strategies like better organizing your to-dos to adjusting your posture so you move with less effort, these tips can help you make the most of each day.

Older woman looking through a window
Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

Why Energy Conservation Techniques Are Important

Fatigue manifests in different ways depending on the person. For example, fatigue from COPD can cause someone to:

  • Feel physically or emotionally drained
  • Fall behind on cleaning, grocery shopping, and other chores
  • Have difficulty maintaining personal hygiene
  • Experience shortness of breath during mundane tasks
  • Develop anxiety, frustration, and depression
  • Have trouble keeping up with relationships; experience social isolation

Research shows that COPD-related fatigue tends to worsens over time, even when the degree of lung damage remains stable. Eventually, fatigue can turn both essential and enjoyable activities into burdens.

Energy conservation techniques (ECTs) help people with COPD use their energy efficiently and productively. These techniques can help them stay on top of their daily tasks and maintain their independence, ultimately improving their overall quality of life.

For a 2020 study, people with COPD were split into two groups and asked to prepare soup, make a bed, hang laundry, and other tasks. One group was trained to use energy conservation techniques to perform these tasks, while the other wasn't. The group that used ECTs performed more tasks in less time and felt less fatigued while doing them.

Energy Conservation Techniques for People With COPD

Energy conservation techniques are what some might call "lifestyle hacks." That's because they are meant to make your life easier so that you can do more with the energy you have.

The following techniques can help you tackle your responsibilities and end more days with a sense of accomplishment.

Control Your Breathing

It's natural to pant when faced with strenuous activity, but this actually wears you out faster. Panting overworks your diaphragm and causes you to have less oxygen (and more carbon dioxide) in your lungs.

Breathing techniques can help fight fatigue. They regulate your breaths and stabilize the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs.

Try:

  • Pursed breathing: Next time you do something that typically makes you pant, you can try inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through pursed lips. This might feel unnatural at first, but you will get better at it the more you practice.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: For this technique, start by sitting or lying comfortably on your back. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Inhale through your nose as far as you can, focusing on your abdomen expanding. Hold your breath for two seconds then exhale slowly through your mouth for about six seconds.

In addition to helping you regulate your breaths, practicing diaphragmatic breathing regularly can help strengthen your diaphragm.

You can practice diaphragmatic breathing for five to fifteen minutes at a time, so long as you feel comfortable. Some people may feel lightheaded after a diaphragmatic breathing session, so it's best to relax a little afterward and not stand up too quickly.

The purpose of breathing techniques is to regulate and relax your breath. If you don't feel you are getting enough air through your nose when pursed-lip breathing, don't force it. Go at a pace you are comfortable with and take breaks as often as you need.

Avoid Unnecessary Tasks

If you find yourself easily tired by everyday tasks, be strategic. Combine tasks to get more out of your efforts, or forego unnecessary ones done purely out of habit.

For instance:

  • Wear a terrycloth robe to save yourself the extra task of toweling after bathing.
  • Allow your dishes to air dry rather than drying them by hand.
  • Sit instead of standing to do your hair, shave, or put on your makeup.

Organize Your Activities

Keeping your schedule simple can be the difference between getting through a day comfortably or giving up midway through.

As a rule, do your most strenuous activities at the beginning of the day when you have the most energy. If you have multiple strenuous tasks to do in one day, try to start with one strenuous task, then tick a lighter task off your to-do list before moving on to the next strenuous one.

Keep your schedule flexible and give yourself extra time for each task so that you can take breaks if needed.

If you know you have a day when a chunk of time will be taken up with, say, a social engagement, shift a few tasks to another day (or eliminate them entirely) so you don't overwork yourself trying to get things done in less time.

Reorganize Your Closets and Shelves

Reorganize your closets, shelves, and drawers so that things you use most frequently are between waist- and shoulder-height. This will prevent you from having to do a lot of bending or stretching to reach them.

This goes for everything—your clothes, laundry supplies, cookware, cleaning supplies, and so on.

If possible, keep all items in the area that you use them most often to avoid walking back and forth to retrieve them. And don’t be afraid to put items where they are convenient rather than where they are "supposed" to be.

Choose Clothing Strategically

When it comes to shopping for clothes, remember that it's all about the details. Choose clothing items that balance style with practical elements that making putting them on less tiring.

For example, look for clothes that use zippers instead of buttons, and choose items that open in the front instead of those that you have to pull over your head. Opt for self-fastening shoes instead of ones with laces, or go with a pair of slip-on flats or loafers.

Tight or form-fitting clothes place extra pressure on your diaphragm and make it harder to breathe. Instead, choose loose-fitting clothes made of light-fabrics like cotton. You will want to avoid compression socks too, as tight socks can easily restrict blood flow to your feet.

Keep Duplicates of Frequently Used Items

Double up on certain household items to avoid lugging them around the house. If you don't want to spend twice the amount on cleaning supplies, you can purchase empty bottles, split the cleaning supplies you already have, then place them in strategic areas.

For example, if you have a two-story home with a bathroom on each floor, you can keep a separate set of household cleaners in each bathroom as well as the kitchen. You might want to consider keeping one vacuum on each floor, too.

If you can splurge, take advantage of modern technology by purchasing an autonomous vacuum cleaner. These robots connect to an app on your smartphone so that all you have to do is press a button and let them do the work.

Prepare Meals in Advance

See if you can find one free day per week to prepare a week's worth of meals in advance. Simply package individual-size portions in separate containers and store them in the freezer for the coming week.

Then, when hunger strikes, all you will have to do is pop a serving into the microwave for a hot and easy meal. This is a great opportunity to invite friends or family who offer to help you, as they can easily contribute to the grocery shopping or preparation.

Rest After Each Meal

Feeling a little tired after you eat is normal, but COPD can amplify the fatigue and shortness of breath that comes with mealtime.

Eating triggers a few biochemical processes that make you feel sleepy. Most notably, eating causes your glucose (blood sugar) to spike—an effect that can make you feel quite sluggish.

In response to this spike, your body ramps up insulin production to convert glucose into energy. You will feel less tired once insulin does its job, but it can take a few hours for the food you ate to give you energy.

Combat this effect by giving yourself more time to enjoy your meal and relax afterwards. Take smaller bites, chew slowly, and use pursed-lip breathing while you eat if you feel short of breath.

You may find it helpful to designate a block of time for each meal. Keep your mealtimes consistent and avoid making plans after you eat.

There's no harm in holding off on doing the dishes until your energy returns, either. Allow yourself some time to simply unwind and digest with a puzzle, a book, or a nap if you need.

Invest in a Foldable Shopping Cart

If you're not keen on using an electric shopping cart, or your local store doesn't offer one, consider getting a foldable shopping cart with wheels.

Store it in your trunk for trips to the grocery store. If you find the cart helpful, you can also keep one around your house to carry multiple items from one room to the next.

Maintain Good Posture

Good posture conserves energy, while excessive stooping places extra stress on your back, shoulders, and hips. Poor posture wears you out faster than if your shoulders, spine, and hips are properly aligned.

When moving heavier items, use proper body mechanics or, better yet, ask a friend to help.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

When you relax, you help restore energy to the body. Make a point of scheduling rest periods throughout the day, ideally by laying on your back, slowing your breathing, and concentrating on relaxing your muscles.

Explore techniques such as meditation, Ujjayi breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation. You'll be surprised at how much they help.

Ask for Help

Delegate tasks that are too strenuous for you, such as scrubbing floors, moving furniture, or washing the car. If you don't ask for help, they might not realize you need it.

Not everyone will understand your limitations or appreciate what you are going through, but there's nothing wrong with letting them know. Reach out. You'll be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just ask.

Summary

COPD fatigue can make accomplishing even the smallest tasks a challenge, but it doesn't have to stop you from enjoying your life.

Energy conservation techniques are designed to streamline your home, schedule, and lifestyle so that you can do more with the energy you have.

A Word From Verywell

While there is no quick-fix for fatigue, it's important that you make healthy lifestyle choices that build your stamina and maintain your lungs' aerobic capacity. That said, it's also important that you don't risk injury by pushing yourself too hard.

As you go about your day, be sure to listen to your body. Activity is important, but your safety is too.

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ebadi Z, Goertz YMJ, Van Herck M, et al. The prevalence and related factors of fatigue in patients with COPD: a systematic review. Euro Res Rev. 2021 Apr;30(160):1-16. doi:10.1183/16000617.0298-2020

  2. Peters J, Heijdra Y, Daudey L, et al. Course of normal and abnormal fatigue in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and its relationship with domains of health status. Patient Ed Couns. 2011 Nov;85(2):281-285. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2010.08.021

  3. Wingårdh ASL, Göransson C, Larsson S, Slinde F, Vanfleteren LEGW. Effectiveness of energy conservation techniques in patients with COPDRespiration. 2020 Apr;99(5):409-416. doi:10.1159/000506816

  4. Harvard Health Medical School. Learning diaphragmatic breathing. Mar 2016.

  5. American Lung Association. Pursed lip breathing. Reviewed February 2020.

  6. University of Michigan Health. Diaphragmatic breathing for GI patients.

  7. Amaro-Gahete FJ, Sanchez-Delgado G, Alcantara JMA, et al. Correction: Energy expenditure differences across lying, sitting, and standing positions in young healthy adultsPLoS One. 2019 Jul;14(7):1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219372

  8. National Ag Safety Data Base. Stooped and Squatting Postures in the Workplace.

  9. Spruit MA, Burtin C, De Boever P, et al. COPD and exercise: does it make a difference?Breathe. 2016 Jul;12(2):38-49. doi:10.1183/20734735.003916