Living Well With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


By: Ben Taylor


In early chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a person may have chronic cough and phlegm but may not be aware they have reduced lung function.  They sometimes dismiss their symptoms as part of the normal aging process.  A person with severe COPD can get short of breath even while walking slowly or getting out of a chair.  These symptoms are impossible to ignore.

There is no cure for COPD, but there are treatments to improve symptoms. If you take steps to quit smoking, to exercise, and to improve your diet, you can increase your life expectancy and have a better quality of life.

Exacerbations is when symptoms flare up or get worse.  Avoiding exacerbations is a major part of slowing the progression of COPD.  Exacerbations can happen fast, within a matter of hours or days.  Exacerbations are often triggered by respiratory infections (viral or bacterial) and they can also be triggered by increased exposure to pollution or secondhand smoke.

9 Tips to Help Slow the Progression of COPD 

  1. If You Smoke, Stop: The most important step in slowing down COPD progression is to quit smoking. 
  2. Avoid Breathing in Pollution or Toxins: There are people whose COPD is caused or worsened by different exposures at work or at home.  If you’re around any kind of fumes or dust, it’s important to know what they are.  It’s really about trying to make sure you’re breathing normal air without any other particles in it.
  3. Enroll in Pulmonary Rehabilitation: The program utilizes exercises that not only make the muscles more conditioned but also help them use oxygen more efficiently, he says. Pulmonary rehab teaches breathing techniques that can be used in response to certain situations, like when a person feels short of breath, and can improve symptoms.
  4. Strengthen Your Core: When that part of the body is weak, the symptoms of COPD, such as shortness of breath, can feel worse.
  5. Eat Nutritious Food: there is thought that plant-based diets may be beneficial and will have favorable effects on lots of conditions in the body.
  6. Maintain a Healthy Weight: People with more severe COPD can be underweight, which can put them at a higher risk for exacerbations and mortality.  Being overweight puts extra weight around the chest wall which can lower lung volumes.
  7. Make Sure You’re Taking Your Medicine as Prescribed: Using inhalers incorrectly is fairly common and can raise the risk of exacerbations.  Proper usage of your inhaler reduces your risk of exacerbation and will help to improve your baseline lung function.
  8. Avoid Germs Whenever Possible: Many exacerbations are due to either viral or bacterial infections. It’s very important to always wash your hands regularly, especially when touching surfaces.  If you’re around anyone who is sick, you may want to wear a mask or avoid any contact.
  9. Get Immunized: Protecting yourself against preventable diseases is vital in slowing the progression of COPD.  The flu shot is recommended every year and you should get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.  Pneumonia vaccinations are very important for people with COPD because of the high risk that pneumonia poses to people with the disease.



10 Habits That Can Worsen COPD

  1. Never Exercising: regular physical activity among COPD patients results in long-term clinical benefits and healthcare cost savings and can help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
  2. Eating a Lot of Junk Food: junk food is often high in sodium, which can cause you to retain fluids which could lead to congestion and make it harder for you to breathe.  Eating too much high-calorie food can contribute to obesity and worsen people’s ability to breathe and exercise.
  3. Having an Erratic Sleep Schedule: Everyone needs quality shut-eye, but this is especially true for people with COPD, who need to keep their immune systems as healthy as possible.  Staying up late some nights can throw off your body clock and make it difficult for you to get the sleep you need. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help.
  4. Leaving Your Oxygen at Home When You Go Out: For people with low resting saturations who need oxygen, going without oxygen puts excess strain on the heart.
  5. Over exerting Yourself: Moderate exercise can improve the body’s use of oxygen, muscle strength, energy levels, mood, and sleep patterns.  People with COPD have lower exercise thresholds, going overboard can be dangerous and cause exacerbations.
  6. Never Dusting: Dust is a lung irritant, one that can worsen COPD.  If you are not able to clean your house regularly, you may want to find someone who can help you.
  7. Drinking Soda: Drinking soda can cause you to gain weight, but the beverage itself also contains carbonation, which can cause your stomach to swell up. When your stomach swells, it pushes up against the diaphragm, making it harder to breath.
  8. Consuming Too Much Caffeine: Drinks such as coffee and tea and foods like chocolate all contain caffeine, a stimulant that can prevent you from falling asleep.  There is no correlation between caffeine use and COPD exacerbations.
  9. Letting Yourself Get Dehydrated: Without enough water, your mucus can become thick and stick to your lungs, adding to your breathing problems.
  10. Constantly Being Stressed Out: Dealing with a chronic lung condition can be stressful on its own; add in work duties and family obligations, and you might find that you’re feeling overly stressed out or angry stressed. Consider joining a support group, which can make you feel less lonely, allow you to vent your feelings, and teach you better ways to cope with certain situations.

Lifestyle changes can help you avoid exacerbations so you can

slow down its progression to help

you live longer and better.


Glatter, R. (2018, Nov). How treating the mind can heal the body. Forbes. Retrieved from:

Hart, M. K., Stewardson, E., Jamil, A., Tecson, K., & Millard, M. (2018, Oct). Harmonica playing improves outcomes in patients with COPD. Respiratory Care, 63(Suppl 10).  Retrieved from

Shalit, N., Tierney, A., Holland, A., Miller, B., Norris, N., & King, S. (2016).  Factors that influence dietary intake in adults with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nutrition & Dietetics, 73(5), 455-462.