How to Conserve Energy If You Have COPD

Shortcuts and Strategies to Help You Through Your Day

When a person has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), their airways become damaged and inflamed—making it harder for oxygen to reach their lungs and feed their muscles. As a result, they can often feel weighed down by fatigue and have greater difficulty managing their day-to-day tasks.

This article includes 12 energy conservation techniques that can help people with COPD streamline their home, manage their physical fatigue, and make the most of each day.

Older woman looking through a window
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Why Energy Conservation Techniques Are Important

Most people with COPD are affected by some degree of fatigue, whether that is physical fatigue, emotional fatigue, or both. Fatigue shows up in numerous ways that vary from person to person. Examples of how it can affect someone with COPD include:

  • Feeling physically or emotionally drained
  • Falling behind on cleaning, grocery shopping, and other chores
  • Difficulty maintaining personal hygiene
  • Shortness of breath during mundane tasks
  • Anxiety, frustration, and depression
  • Trouble keeping up with relationships and 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—from getting dressed, to spending time with loved ones.

While there is no quick-fix for fatigue, it's important for people with COPD to make healthy lifestyle choices that build their stamina and maintain their lungs' aerobic capacity. That said, it's also important that they don't risk injury by pushing themselves too hard.

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 to-do lists and end more days with a sense of accomplishment:

Control Your Breathing

It's natural to pant when faced with strenuous activity, but panting also wears you out faster. There's two reasons for this: first, panting overworks your diaphragm, and second, it causes you to have less oxygen in your lungs and more carbon dioxide.

Breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, can help fight fatigue by regulating your breaths and stabilizing the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs.

Next time you do something that typically makes you paint, try pursed-lip breathing by 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.

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 remember to take water breaks often.

Avoid Unnecessary Tasks

If you find yourself easily tired by everyday tasks, be strategic. Kill two birds with one stone by combining tasks or foregoing 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 towel drying them.
  • Sit instead of standing to do your hair, shave, or put on your makeup. Sitting is known to use up less energy than standing.

Organize Your Activities

Keeping your schedule simple can make all the difference between getting through a day comfortably or giving up mid-stream.

As a rule, plan your most strenuous activities at the beginning of the day when you have the most energy. Plan ahead and alternate between tasks that are difficult and those that are easy. Be flexible and give yourself extra leeway in the event you get tired.

The same applies if you have a social engagement. Instead of bowing out, exclude a few daily tasks so that you can spend as much time resting before heading out.

Reorganize Your Closets and Shelves

Make getting dressed easier by reorganizing your closets, shelves, and drawers so that things are strategically where you need them.

Place the items you use most frequently between waist and shoulder height so you won't have to do a lot of bending or stretching to reach them.

If possible, keep all items in the area that you use them most 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, instead of clothes with zippers in the back, look for items with buttons or zippers in the front and choose shoes that use velcro instead of laces. You also can't go wrong with a pair of slip-on flats or loafers for fancier occasions.

Tight or form-fitting clothes place extra pressure on your diaphragm and make it harder to breathe. Instead, opt for loose-fitting clothes made of light-fabrics like cotton. Be on the lookout for compression-free 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, like the Roomba. These robots connect to an app on your smart phone so that all you have to do is press a button in your app and let them do the work while you move on to something else.

Cook on Sunday for the Entire Week

Preparing all of your meals on Sunday allows you to focus on the task on a day when there is less distraction from work or school. 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 to join you for grocery shopping and preparing meals.

Not only does this give you a chance to socialize, but it gives your loved a chance to take weight off your shoulders, and you you can send meals home with them too.

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 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 Rolling Utility Cart

Not everyone is keen on using an electric shopping cart at the store; there's certainly nothing wrong with using one, some people simply wish to avoid the unwanted attention that they can sometimes attract.

Fortunately, there's another option: rolling utility carts. This is an excellent alternative that people of all ages use for countless purposes.

Store a utility cart in your trunk for trips to the grocery store, and if you find the cart helpful, you can also keep them 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

Let your guard down and ask for help if you need it. Delegate tasks that are too strenuous for you, such as scrubbing floors, moving furniture, or washing the car. If people don’t offer to 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

Energy conservation techniques certainly aren't limited to what you see here. Keep a notebook or sticky notes in your purse or pocket, in your car, or on your counter; when you think of a new ECT to try, write it down. Tack the note some place you will see it so that you will remember to give it a try. By thinking creatively, you will find that there are endless ways to save energy as you go about your day.

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Article Sources
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