10 Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve COPD

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is often difficult, especially if your symptoms are worsening and you can't understand why. If your dyspnea (shortness of breath) is increasing and your cough is becoming more frequent, certain lifestyle changes may help you to feel better.


Quit Smoking

Quitting Smoking
Smoking is associated with Crohn's disease flare-ups, and quitting is the best course of action. Image ©

If you have COPD, the most important thing you can do for your health is to quit smoking. Not only does smoking make COPD progress more rapidly, but it can also lead to other smoking-related illnesses such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, or cancer.

If you want to quit, there are some effective aids that can help, including nicotine patches and oral medication. Under the Affordable Care Act, many of these are available free of charge for multiple quit attempts.

A five-year study in China reported that smoking cessation in people with severe COPD significantly increased the survival rate. Among the 204 trial participants, 73 people who didn't stop smoking had died compared to only 40 in the group who quit smoking.


Start Exercising

Exercise class in starting position of the pilates saw
Juice Images Ltd / Getty Images

If you're spending most of your time sitting and watching TV, it's time to get up and get moving. Exercise has many benefits, including improved sleep quality, increased self-esteem, and improved overall quality of life.

According to a 2013 report in the European Respiratory Review, continuous high-intensity training works best for improving your respiratory health if you have COPD. However, if you cannot sustain high-intensity exercises because your symptoms are severe, interval training (in which the intensity of a workout is increased to 90% to 95% of your maximum heart rate for several minutes and then slowed to a more relaxed rate for several minutes) works just as well.


Ditch the Junk Food

Eating Junk Food
Eating Junk Food. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user John Rensten

Eating junk food or a diet filled with processed foods can negatively affect your COPD. Junk food contains loads of calories and fat, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. Being overweight can make breathing more difficult, especially if you have COPD.

Simple dietary changes can make a big difference in your life. According to a 2014 review of studies in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, increasing your consumption of fruit by 100 milligrams per day reduces the risk of mortality by 24% over a 20-year period. By contrast, eating cured meats high in nitrates is associated with the rapid progression of COPD.


Practice Good Hygiene

Good hygiene - a great habit
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Although the two top causes of COPD exacerbation are lung infections and air pollution, many times, the cause is unknown. To lower your risk of COPD exacerbation, be sure to wash your hands and get any vaccinations your healthcare provider may recommend. COPD exacerbation can lead to hospitalization and death, making it important to prevent or at least recognize when it's coming.


Take Your Medications

thyroid medication, not taking thyroid medication
What happens when you don't take your thyroid medication?. Tetra Images - Daniel Grill / Getty

Whether it's because you can't afford your medications or are having a hard time managing your condition, being non-compliant, or not adhering to your recommended COPD treatment plan, can have a direct impact on your quality of life. COPD may be incurable, but it is treatable.


Use Your Oxygen

Oxygen therapy
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Many people with COPD, who could benefit from long-term oxygen therapy, won't do so because they are embarrassed to be seen in public with an oxygen tank and nasal cannula. This can lead to social isolation and depression, lowering your overall well-being. Oxygen therapy has many benefits, including improving sleep, mood, and mental alertness.

Studies have even shown that using oxygen for at least 15 hours per day can increase your survival rate. There are alternatives to the nasal cannula, so if you don't like your current delivery method, ask your healthcare provider what other methods are available.


Avoid Your COPD Triggers

Woman with sinusitis caused by allergies
Woman with sinusitis caused by allergies. Maica/Getty Images

A trigger is anything you are exposed to that makes your COPD symptoms worse. Not everyone is going to react negatively to the same trigger. Triggers can be found indoors or outdoors. Once you identify what they are, the easier you can learn how to avoid them.


Prioritize Rest

Calories Maintain Our Body at Rest
We Burn 60% of Our Calories During Rest Periods. PeopleImages.com DigitalVision/Getty Images

Have you ever found yourself worn out before you have even started your day? Does your shortness of breath get so bad that you can't finish daily tasks that you used to be able to perform?

If this sounds familiar, you may need to start pacing yourself so that you can conserve more energy. Not only will conserving your energy help you get through your day, but it will help you deal with the most frightening aspect of COPD-related breathlessness.


Improve the Air Quality in Your Home

air duct cleaning
Louis-Paul St-Onge / E+ / Getty Images

Did you know that indoor air is sometimes more polluted than outdoor air? Improving the air quality in your home is not only important for those with chronic illnesses, it will also benefit the entire family, pets included. If you want to filter the air in your home, consider buying a HEPA filter. 


Avoid Stress

Meditation at home
Practicing meditation at home is easier when you have a good spot for it. PeopleImages.com/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Chronic stress is related to a number of chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, and obesity. It can even make your COPD symptoms worse. Part of a healthy lifestyle includes stress reduction methods, like mindfulness or meditation, both of which can be incorporated into your daily life. 

Studies have shown that managing anxiety and depression can increase your ability to stick with your prescribed treatments and improve your physical health. In addition to mind-body therapies, cognitive behavior therapy, antidepressants, and other medical interventions can also help relieve stress and improve your overall quality of life.

5 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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  2. Gloeckl R, Marinov B, Pitta F. Practical recommendations for exercise training in patients with COPD. Eur Respir Rev. 2013;22(128):178-86. doi:10.1183/09059180.00000513

  3. Hanson C, Rutten EP, Wouters EF, Rennard S. Influence of diet and obesity on COPD development and outcomes. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2014;9:723-33. doi:10.2147/COPD.S50111

  4. McDonald CF. Oxygen therapy for COPD. J Thorac Dis. 2014;6(11):1632-9. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.10.23

  5. Lu Y, Nyunt MS, Gwee X, et al. Life event stress and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): associations with mental well-being and quality of life in a population-based study. BMJ Open. 2012;2(6):e001674. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001674

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.