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Day to Day with COPD

Better manage your COPD symptoms with these steps you can take

Veteran coughing while exercising

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed, or blocked, airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include trouble breathing, coughing, and wheezing. Living with COPD has its challenges. But there are ways you can live better and manage breathing better. Adopting simple lifestyle changes can help make your days easier and preserve your strength.

Stop smoking

This is the single most important thing to do for your health. If you continue to smoke, your COPD will continue to decrease your lung function at an accelerated rate. VA can help with different ways to quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about choosing a method that works for you.

Exercise to breathe easier

Exercise is good for everyone, including people with COPD. This is the second most important thing to do for your health after quitting smoking. When starting an exercise routine, it's best to start slow and build up strength. Anyone with COPD should talk to their health care provider about what kind of exercise is right for them. Regular exercise can improve your:

  • Use of oxygen

  • Energy levels

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Sleep

  • Heart health

  • Muscle strength

  • Shortness of breath

When you exercise, your heart beats faster and your working muscles require much more oxygen. If you are not breathing properly, it can adversely affect your movements, posture, coordination and the effect of the exercise on your muscles.

A rule to remember when working out is to inhale before starting the exercise and exhale through the most difficult part. Be sure to stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel pain in your chest, neck, arm or jaw, become nauseous, or dizzy.

Get a good night's sleep

A good night's sleep can help you feel better and keep you healthier. But when you have COPD, it can be hard to get enough rest. You may wake up short of breath or coughing. Some COPD medications can also make it hard to sleep. Some safe ways to improve your sleep include:

  • Having a regular bedtime.

  • Relaxing before you go to bed, by reading a book or taking a bath.

  • Using window shades to block outside light.

  • Asking your family to help keep the house quiet when it is time for you to sleep.

If you make these changes and still have difficulty sleeping, talk to your health care team. A change in your treatment may be the answer to a good night's sleep. Avoid using over-the-counter sleep aids because they can make breathing even harder.

How diet affects COPD

When you have COPD, moving air in and out of your lungs takes more work and burns more calories. The food you eat gives you fuel to breathe. Your weight also plays a role in COPD. Being overweight can make it even harder for you to breathe. The metabolism of carbohydrates produces the most carbon dioxide for oxygen used; metabolism of fat produces the least. For some people with COPD, eating a diet with fewer carbs and more fat helps them breathe easier. Although your diet depends on whether you need to lose or gain weight.

  • If you need to lose weight - Choose fresh fruits and veggies over bread and pasta.

  • If you need to gain weight - Eat a variety of whole-grain carbs and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Online help

Veterans looking to better manage their COPD with these lifestyle changes can use My HealtheVet to track their progress. By getting authenticated for a Premium account you can track your daily food choices and physical activities. You can also send Secure Messages (sign in required) to your health care team to keep the team updated on any setbacks or improvements you have.


Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Which one healthy habit are you most likely to adopt to better manage COPD?

Read More

Living Well with COPD (Veterans Health Library)

Quit Smoking with Help from VA

Day to day with COPD (MedlinePlus)

Managing COPD (American Lung Association)


Updated July 29, 2019