Change your life with COPD through diet and exercise

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a lung disease that can affect every part of your life. In fact, it affects the daily lives of an estimated 2.6 million Canadians aged 35-79. As the disease progresses and affects physical ability, it’s common to feel anxious, burdened and discouraged from doing activities that you once enjoyed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, you can overcome and prevent these limitations. Here are just a few tips to help you live well with COPD.

Being active

Along with your medication, exercise and physical activity play an essential role in improving your life with COPD. Not only will they reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, stroke, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes — they will also help your COPD by giving you the ability to accomplish more, use your energy more efficiently and be less breathless.

An ideal exercise session includes:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Cardiovascular training
  3. Muscle strengthening
  4. Flexibility and balance

Activities can include:

  • Warm-up: walking on the spot, holding your arms outstretched and lifting your knees one at a time so they touch your hands
  • Cardiovascular training: stationary bicycle, walking, going up and down stairs
  • Muscle strengthening: lifting weights, sit-ups, sitting down and standing up from a chair
  • Flexibility and balance: tilting and rotating your head and neck, bending and twisting side-to-side at the waist, standing with one leg slightly raised in front of you and rotating your ankle

Pulmonary rehabilitation

You may also consider participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program if you are limited in your daily activities and need support to start an exercise program. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a structured and supervised exercise program for people with COPD or other lung diseases. Speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional to be referred to a pulmonary rehabilitation specialist.

Eating well

A healthy and balanced diet is essential for everyone, but it is especially important for people with COPD. Good nutrition will give you much-needed energy for accomplishing physical tasks.

With COPD, it’s important to focus on both quality and quantity. Quality means choosing foods that are packed with nutrients. And quantity means eating the right portions at regular intervals, despite a loss of appetite which can occur as COPD progresses.

Nutritious choices:

  • Meat or protein: beef, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes and beans, nuts and grains, peanut butter, cheese
  • Grains or starch: oats, wheat, barley, rice, pasta, potatoes, whole-grain bread, crackers
  • Vegetables: aim for a variety of colours, especially dark green (like spinach, broccoli or kale) and orange (like carrots, sweet potatoes or squash)

How diet and exercise can help:

“I move more. I started with housework, and now I’m able to do the cleaning, the laundry and my meals.”

  • Susana, 67, London, Ontario

“When I exercise, it’s easier to control my shortness of breath if I use the pursed-lip breathing technique.”

  • Mariam, 58, Kelowna, B.C.

“I have more self-confidence. I know that I can accomplish more and I feel more useful and less anxious.”

  • Paul, 63, Halifax, Nova Scotia

This is just some information on how being active and eating well can help change your life with COPD. There are many more courses of action available to you, including quitting smoking, taking medication as directed, getting a good night’s sleep, having a satisfying sex life, and planning for leisure activities and trips.

Visit and for even more tips, techniques and support for living with COPD.