5 Ways to Prevent COPD From Getting Worse

A Practical Guide to Managing Obstructive Lung Disease

Self-care plays an important role in managing any chronic condition, but it's especially important if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Oftentimes, the initial response to a COPD diagnosis is to assume that you're going to get worse no matter what. It's an understandable reaction given that COPD is an irreversible condition and that any damage done to the lungs is permanent.

But that doesn't mean that COPD has an inevitable course. How the disease progresses from person to person varies enormously. What can make a big difference is you taking control.

Read on to learn about a number of steps you can take to prevent your COPD from worsening. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising, and eating well can help you breathe better and improve your nutrition, energy levels, and quality of life.

An older couple at the gym together

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1. Put Out That Cigarette Today

Quitting cigarette smoking is the one thing you must do if you intend to prevent your COPD from reaching an advanced stage.

Smoking causes inflammation of the airways and tiny air sacs in the lungs that results in an overproduction of mucus. The accumulation of mucus is the reason why you can't get enough air in the lungs. Unless you stop this persistent inflammation, the condition will only get worse.

Even if you are in a later stage of COPD, it's never too late to quit. Not only does stopping help slow disease progression, the health benefits only increase as time goes by. In many cases, the shortness of breath will lessen within six to nine months of stopping.

There are a number of different smoking cessation aids available today, many of which are covered by insurance. If you've tried to quit smoking before but were unsuccessful, talk to your health care provider about medications or getting counseling to help you quit.

2. Get Out of Your Chair and Exercise

The importance of daily exercise is often overlooked when putting together a COPD treatment plan. Beyond improving your breathing and boosting your stamina, a fitness program can help strengthen your bones and muscles and help you regain a sense of control over your life. This increases feelings of wellness and self-esteem.

To get the most out of a fitness program, start by assessing your exercise tolerance with your healthcare provider. This will help you to know how much exercise you can safely and reasonably manage. With this information, you can go to a fitness professional who can put together a routine to fit both your current health status and the stage of your COPD.

3. Practice Good Nutrition for the Stage of Your Disease

Some people with COPD require as much as 10 times the energy to breathe as others. While a healthy diet cannot reverse COPD, it can help you feel better and provide more energy for all of your daily activities, including breathing.

So consider creating a healthy meal plan for yourself that involves eating smaller meals four to six times a day, instead of three larger meals. Try to get plenty of rest before each meal.

Your healthcare provider will tell you to cut back on salt because it can make you retain water and cause swelling, making your breathing problems worse.There are no specific guidelines for what to eat if you have COPD. However, several studies have shown that people with COPD who stick to a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables perform better on breathing tests.

So choose green and brightly colored vegetables and fruit, such as broccoli, spinach, berries, and carrots. These foods fight inflammation and are rich in chemicals and nutrients to help fight diseases.

One study even found that a healthy diet can prevent people with COPD from becoming depressed.

There is also evidence that taking nutritional supplements and vitamins may help. People with COPD are usually treated with steroids. Over time, steroids can decrease your calcium levels.

You may want to ask your healthcare provider if taking calcium and vitamins D and C would strengthen your bones, bolster your immune system, and help you fight off chest infections that are common in people with COPD.

4. Avoid Irritants in the Air

There is no point in stopping cigarettes if you allow other people to smoke around you. Secondhand smoke is just as toxic (and potentially carcinogenic) as the smoke you inhale yourself. Don't be polite at the risk of your good health. If someone around you is smoking, ask them to stop or move. 

This also applies to air pollution or occupational exposure to dust and harsh chemicals. If you want to protect your lungs, you will often need to make hard choices. While moving or changing jobs is not always viable, simple awareness allows you to take whatever necessary steps are needed to protect yourself.

5. Follow Your COPD Treatment Plan as Prescribed

Inconvenience or forgetfulness is never a good excuse for not following your COPD treatment plan as prescribed. This includes not using your bronchodilator properly, missing doses of your medication, forgetting your annual flu shot, or not getting vaccinated against pneumonia or COVID-19. In the end, you and you alone call the shots as to how well or poorly you adhere to treatment.

This also includes getting regular medical care. As a rule, it is never wise to schedule a healthcare provider's appointment only when things go wrong. By that time, the damage to your lungs will have happened. You stand a far better chance of avoiding illness and managing your disease more effectively by seeing your healthcare provider regularly.

In the end, the less stress put on your lungs, the less damage they incur and the slower your disease will progress. It's as simple as that.

One Final Consideration

Ask your healthcare provider if a formal pulmonary rehabilitation program, or PR, would be helpful to you. PR programs are for people with chronic lung disease and are done in addition to treatment plans.

These programs are usually done on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic. The programs can run for several weeks to months.

Healthcare providers teach breathing and other energy-saving strategies such as easier ways to cook, clean, and perform other daily tasks. They also provide nutrition, exercise, and mental health counseling and information on support groups in your area.

Summary

COPD is an irreversible condition, but there's a lot you can do to slow or stop it from getting worse. Taking steps like quitting smoking, exercising, eating right, avoiding unhealthy air, and following your treatment plan will help you breathe better, improve your energy levels, fight infections, and feel more in control of your life.

A Word From Verywell

Taking these steps and making these lifestyle changes won't be easy, but they can help improve your breathing, strengthen your bones and muscles and keep you out of the hospital.

Living with COPD can be frightening and cause anxiety and depression, impacting your ability to manage your symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health counselor about how you feel.

They can help you find COPD support groups. Consider joining one and learning how other people living with COPD have learned to cope with breathing difficulties and other symptoms.

Also, having the support of family and friends can make a huge difference in relieving stress and anxiety and preventing depression. Don't be afraid to share your feelings with your loved ones and ask for help when you need it.

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6 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.
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  4. Dinparast F, Sharifi A, Moradi S, Alipour M, Alipour B. The associations between dietary pattern of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients and depression: a cross-sectional studyBMC Pulm Med. 2021;21(1):8. doi:10.1186/s12890-020-01383-5

  5. American Lung Association. Nutrition and COPD. Updated June 10, 2021.

  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Pulmonary rehabilitation.