Incorporating Healthy Habits to Help Manage COPD: A Specialist’s View
In my last column, I shared tips and insights into nutrition interventions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As important as nutrition is to healing, lifestyle habits also play a critical role in the treatment of the disease. Introducing certain changes into your routine can make a big difference in your overall quality of life and may even reduce some of your symptoms.
Below are some topics to consider:
Air quality and hygiene
The environment we live in affects our health in so many ways. It is important to be conscious and conscientious about the quality of the air you breathe. Avoiding dust and fumes, and smoke inhalation from cigarettes, pollutants, and industrial compounds will greatly improve oxygen levels. Steering clear of crowds during cold and flu season can also aid in protecting the integrity of the immune system.
Our bodies host so many different microbes and bacteria, and it is in the balance of these organisms that determine the quality of our health. Cleanliness, especially where bad bacteria can grow easily, is imperative.
Take care of those teeth: Make regular visits to the dentist as oral hygiene is essential in ensuring infections don’t spread to other areas of the body.
Moderate exercise including resistance training (resistance bands, free weights) and aerobics three to four times a week.
Exercise strengthens the respiratory muscles and helps the blood and oxygen circulate, increasing self-esteem and lowering the incidence of depression and anxiety. Great options are walking, biking, and swimming for 30 minutes. Some patients reported less fatigue and developed more physical endurance when they exercised in a hydrotherapy pool, compared either gym-based training or standard medical care without exercise.
If supplemental oxygen is indicated, feel free to exercise with it; just consult your doctor to adjust the levels.
Reach out for support from friends and caregivers. Mental health is important to remember, and connections with friends, loved ones and caregivers are vital. Using physical activity as a way to spend time together is a great option.
Intentional breath exercises support lung function, facilitate circulation, and contribute to healthy gut motility.
There are three types of breathwork exercises that COPD patients can do to help with their breathing:
- Pursed-lip breathing: Inhale through your nose, then exhale through tightly pursed lips.
- Diaphragm breathing: Contract the diaphragm to breathe more deeply. The belly visibly expands while breathing in, and it deflates when breathing out.
- Pranayama: This is a controlled breathing technique common in yoga practice. It involves concentrating on the areas of the body connected to breathing.
These exercises also increase aerobic exercise tolerance, and may help people with COPD who have difficulty exercising.
Essential oils (EO) promote the natural healing response. In this article from The Journal of Medicinal Plants published in 2017, the researchers found “direct evidence that EO attenuated lung destruction and chronic airway inflammation via anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, indicating EO as an active controller of lung injury in COPD.”
Essential oils are also excellent for enhancing mood, inducing sleep, and alleviating anxiety.
Here are some examples:
- ability to act as a decongestant and expectorant
- provides some level of pain relief
- can also help COPD patients create a stronger immune system
- should be diluted with a carrier oil (five drops of eucalyptus per ounce of carrier) if you intend to apply it directly to skin
- acts as an antioxidant, helping the body fight against the growth and progression of disease
- lowers stress levels
- antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties
- shown to improve gum health when it is chewed like gum in its more solid form
- many of the same benefits as myrrh but with a different aroma (this one is sweeter, with a hint of citrus and spice)
- antibacterial and antifungal properties help protect against other health conditions
- can boost mood, reducing negative emotions and fatigue
Remember: Using oil in a diffuser is not the same as a topical (skin applied) route or oral route; some of these applications may have side effects that will differ on an individual basis.
Mindfulness and meditation
Including mindfulness and meditation practices have been shown to reduce emotional distress and improve overall emotional function, according to this 2015 study from the International Journal of COPD. Regular meditation can positively influence the immune, endocrine, and nervous system, improving sleep patterns, reducing depression, increasing energy levels, and creating more efficient breathing.
Meditation can be practiced in a variety of ways:
- Mantra: chanting words or phrases to focus the mind
- Mindfulness: focusing attention on a neutral object while being aware of activities and sounds around you
- Focused meditation: bringing attention to one thing, such as a candle, object, or music. This type of meditation is great for beginners.
- Movement meditation: soothing repetitive dynamic movements to relax the mind. Tai chi and hatha yoga are great examples.
Managing COPD with lifestyle and nutrition can greatly influence quality of life. I highly recommend slowly including these habits into your life and getting your friends, caregivers, and family involved. They won’t cure the disease, but they will definitely make you feel better and create a greater sense of agency, community, and belonging.
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, CDN, E-RYT, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, weight management expert, and an accredited member of the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) and the American Dietetic Association. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher, Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of the New York City-based fully integrated mind, body, and spirit urban sanctuary, BE WELL. Alana’s BE WELL ARC System and Method Mapping technique is a holistic multidisciplinary approach to health and wellness that blends Eastern and clinical Western diet and lifestyle support to effect long-lasting behavior change.
A graduate of NYU with a BA and MS in clinical nutrition, Alana is dedicated to helping others learn how to nourish themselves, create balance, and understand their true nature through nutrition, yoga, and inner wellness. She leads Yin Yoga workshops and trainings as well as wellness retreats at international locations. Her health, fitness, and lifestyle expertise has been featured in Aaptiv.com, Droz.com, EatThis.com, RD.com, Redbook, WomensHealthmag.com, and Vogue. For more information, visit her website at bewellbyak.com.