Better breathing techniques for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes breathing difficult, and according to the American Lung Association (ALA), it affects millions of Americans. A COPD diagnosis may seem intimidating at first, but there are many resources, support groups and breathing techniques that can help you breathe better and live your life to the fullest.

Focus on nutrition

Because you have to work harder to breathe with COPD, adequate nutrition is important to maintain strength and muscle condition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, breathing might burn up to 10 times more calories for people with COPD, so paying attention to your diet becomes that much more important. Data presented in a feature review in Nutrients suggests that high fruit and vegetable intake can help COPD over time. Cleveland Clinic also recommends minding your salt intake and making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. Monitor your weight carefully, as it’s not healthy to be overweight or underweight. Keeping your body fueled with the right nutrition can help you breathe better and have the energy do your daily activities.

Breathing techniques

Couple walking dogs in park

Dealing with COPD can be a seemingly endless cycle of breathlessness. As noted by the COPD Foundation, not being able to take what feels like a full breath can be frustrating — and it can make breathing normally difficult. They focus on two breathing techniques that make getting the air you need less stressful.

  • Pursed-lip breathing
    The National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides a helpful illustration of one of these breathing techniques. With the pursed-lip breathing technique, you are sitting up and leaning slightly forward to give your lungs room to expand. Take a two-second breath through your nose. Exhale through your mouth slowly, with your lips slightly pursed, as if you are blowing out birthday candles, for four to six seconds. Repeat as necessary.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing
    Diaphragmatic breathing, as recommended by the COPD Foundation, is a technique that you can use with pursed-lip breathing, and it’s performed either sitting or lying down. It helps train your diaphragm to do the work of breathing, rather than your shoulders, neck or back.
    You should try diaphragmatic breathing when you are resting or relaxed. Start by focusing on relaxing the shoulders and placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe in for two seconds through the nose, making sure that your belly expands out more than your chest. As you exhale slowly, push on your belly to help expel more air and to encourage the diaphragm to contract.

Getting support

If you think you have COPD, or if you’re living with COPD and looking into ways to manage it, your doctor should be your first stop. Another great option for support is a Better Breathers Club. Sponsored by the ALA, the club features respiratory professionals who can answer questions about exercises, medications, supplemental oxygen, improving your breathing techniques and how to talk with your physician about your symptoms. Plus, you get the added benefit of a community of people going through the same struggles and triumphs. A local chapter is available at Reid Health. Call (765) 983-3297 for more information.

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