10 Everyday Activities to Modify for COPD
Doing housework, taking a shower, and other daily activities can cause shortness of breath for people with COPD. Get simple strategies to help make COPD management easier.
By Denise Mann
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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When you're coping with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), seemingly simple everyday tasks like walking the dog or taking a shower can feel like a lot of work.
COPD is a group of chronic lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that are marked by shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and chronic cough. There's no denying that these symptoms can get in the way of everyday living. According to a study done in Seville, Spain in 2007, the daily activities most affected by COPD symptoms are sports and leisure, physical activity, and sex.
But there's good news, too: You can still live a full and rewarding life with COPD. Simple modifications can have a big effect on your COPD management and ability to breathe.
Here are 10 everyday challenges for people living with COPD and simple solutions you can adopt:
1. Doing Laundry
Laundry rooms are often located in basements, and that means stairs. If walking up and down stairs makes you feel breathless, consider moving the washer and dryer equipment upstairs or outsourcing your laundry, suggests Loutfi Aboussouan, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute in Ohio. “It’s a good idea to move all of the things you do more often onto one floor,” he says. Pulmonary rehabilitation can also help you improve your tolerance for walking up stairs, which can make doing laundry easier.
If you constantly have to raise your arms above your head to reach a pan or a plate, you’re taxing the very same muscles that you use for breathing, Dr. Aboussouan says. To streamline the process, move the items that you use frequently down lower so they're more accessible.
Some people with COPD may grow short of breath while eating. To lessen this, eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, Aboussouan says. Also, avoid foods that take a lot of effort to chew. Many people with COPD develop nutritional shortfalls, so pick healthy, nutrient-dense foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables. This style of eating will also help improve your energy throughout the day, he says.
For people living with COPD, it can be hard to find the energy and stamina for intimacy. But with a little forethought, sexual activity is still possible and can improve your quality of life. Schedule sexual encounters for a time of day when the partner with COPD feels most energetic, suggests David A. Beuther, MD, an associate professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, and a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver. “Take your long-acting COPD medications and maybe rest a bit before sexual activity," he says. "If you roll over in bed at 5 a.m. and haven’t taken your medications, it may not be the best time to have sex.” He adds that it's important to know that "it’s safe to have sex with COPD, but you may want to limit the intensity.” Getting regular exercise also helps keep you conditioned. One caution: If you develop chest pain or any new symptoms during sex or another physical activity, talk to your doctor to rule out other health problems.
5. Going Shopping
Maybe you used to love perusing the latest sales, but now going to the mall wears you out. “Energy management is important, so on days when you have an important outing planned, take the day off from exercise and outsource housework so you can save your energy for that special activity,” Dr. Beuther says. "Don’t ask more of your lungs than you need to.”
6. Taking a Shower
For some people with COPD, taking a shower may be the most rigorous thing they do all day, Beuther says. The hot water and steam can make breathing more difficult, and standing for a long time in the shower can drain energy. If this is the case for you, consider using oxygen while showering. “Many people have the idea that they can’t wear oxygen in the shower," he says, "but there are certain tubes that can be used while showering.” Ask your doctor what’s available. You may also want to consider using a shower chair.
You can and should travel if you have COPD, Beuther says. “Plan ahead,” he says. “There are choices for oxygen therapy, some of which are portable.” Contact the airline ahead of time to see what you need in order to travel with oxygen. In addition, he says, "always see your doctor before a trip, make sure you have enough medication, and plan trips with activities that you know you’ll enjoy.”
8. Walking the Dog
You'd love to take your dog for a stroll, but do you run out of energy as you turn the first corner? Although it may be tempting to hand the leash to someone else, don’t give up on exercise just yet. “The less you do, the less youcando,” says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Take your dog for short walks throughout the day, and gradually build up to longer ones. "Walking is great exercise for everyone, especially people with COPD, and it can also help improve your energy level and ability to do more without growing breathless.” Listen to your body, he says: "It will tell you when exercise is too much.”
Some airborne irritants — such as oven cleaners, spray, polish, and other household cleaning agents, especially those that contain bleach or ammonia — may trigger shortness of breath or other COPD symptoms. Choose fragrance-, bleach-, and ammonia-free products for cleaning or ask another household member to do those cleaning tasks, Beuther says.
10. Watching TV
Yes, even the way you sit when watching TV and how far or high you must reach for the remote control can cause a worsening of some COPD symptoms, Aboussouan says. Keep the remote control as low to the ground as possible so you don’t need to reach for it to change the channel. Also keep your books, magazines, cell phone, and other gadgets in easy-access positions. When you sit down to watch TV or surf the Internet, lean slightly forward, with your hands or forearms resting on your knees or a table to support your upper body. This position helps prevent shortness of breath.
By making these simple adjustments to your everyday activities, living with COPD can be easier. If there are other activities that cause you to struggle with shortness of breath, talk to your doctor about more lifestyle changes or adjustments to your COPD treatment that can help.
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