How to Manage Your COPD Like a Respiratory Therapist – Part 2

Posted on October 07, 2016

This is part 2 in our series: How to Manage Your COPD like a Respiratory Therapist. Here are the next steps to manage your COPD well:

Follow a Proper Diet Regimen

It’s vital to equip your body with a properly designed diet that will supplement your most important depleted nutrients. Then it’s up to you to follow through with it.

Indulge in the following nutrients:

  • Protein – Low fat proteins including lean-cut meats, poultry, eggs, and fish, specifically salmon, sardines, and mackerel, play an essential role in protecting your body. Protein produces antibodies that help your body fight off symptom worsening infections.
    • Whole grain foods – Not only are whole-grain bread, brown rice, bran, and oats rich in whole grains, they are loaded with fiber, which will enhance your digestive system function.
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables – Didn’t your mother ever tell you to eat your fruits and veggies? Well, nothing has changed. These natural powerhouses contain essential minerals, vitamins, and fiber that come together to keep your body healthy. Incorporate beets, corn, carrots, oranges, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, to name a few.
    • Potassium-rich foods – In order for your muscles to properly contract, especially for the heart muscle, potassium is vital. A few great sources of protein to include in your diet are yogurt, milk, tomatoes, bananas, grapefruit, oranges, avocados, squash, and dark leafy greens.
    • Magnesium – Combined with calcium the two work together to more effectively regulate lung function (producing an antihistamine like effect), muscle contractions, and even blood clotting. Magnesium is also involved in protein production, which is why it is referred to as the chemical fuel to making muscles function. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 420 mg daily for men and 320 mg for women older than 31. The largest intake of fiber can be found in dark leafy greens. While other sources include whole grains, tofu, lentils, peas, nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, and bananas.
    • Potassium – This extremely important nutrient is a must for muscle contractions in the body, especially for your heart. Having either low or high levels of potassium can lead to very serious irregularities of heartbeat. Exceptional sources of potassium are milk, yogurt, oranges, prunes, carrots, dark leafy greens, fish, bananas, and avocados.
    • Calcium – In addition to working in congruence with magnesium to regulate lung function, muscle contractions, and blood clotting, calcium also plays a role in increasing the strength of your bones. Calcium is very important as COPD patients are also commonly diagnosed with osteoporosis. The major source of calcium is dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. You should also keep in mind that your body won’t necessarily absorb all of the calcium you take in. You can assist calcium absorption by taking regular vitamin D supplements.

Minimize your intake of the following:

  • Fried and greasy foods – Not only is fried food loaded with artery clogging fats and grease, but they can also lead to gas and indigestion.
  • Spicy foods – Spicy foods have been reported to affect breathing and cause discomfort.
  • Sodium – An excessive intake of salt/sodium can lead to something called “fluid retention," when your body retains excess water, often impacting your ability to breathe. Instead, substitute the salt shaker with unsalted herbs and spices. Just check with your doctor to make sure these sodium substitutes don’t contain ingredients that are damaging to your health. Aim to eat food that has less than 300 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Dairy products – If you notice that consumption of dairy products such as cheese and milk cause phlegm to be thicker, you should try to limit dairy consumption. However, if dairy products do not worsen phlegm, you can continue to eat them.
  • Certain vegetables – There are some vegetables that you may notice cause excess bloating and gas, which worsen your ability to breathe. Though not all patients experience this, some do. Beans, cabbage, corn, onions, peas, and lentils are a few of the vegetables whose affects you should pay attention to. If you don’t experience gas or bloating after eating specific vegetables, you can continue to enjoy them.
  • Certain fruits – There are certain fruits that may cause bloating and gas, mainly apples, melons, and avocados. However if you do not experience gas or bloating, you can continue to eat these tasty fresh fruits.

Exercise Regularly

After completing pulmonary rehab it doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Exercise will improve your breathing, overall mood, weight management, and physical endurance which will reduce the occurrence of COPD related fatigue. Following your exercise plan after pulmonary rehab is vital for continuing the improvement and management of your COPD. While exercising remember everything you were taught in PR to manage your breathlessness. You should gradually work up to exercising for 20 to 30 minutes, at minimum three to four times per week.

Beneficial types of exercise:

  • Stretching – Before starting to exercise, you should take at least 5 to 10 minutes to stretch your muscles. Also stretch after your exercise has concluded.
  • Strengthening – These types of exercises are important, especially in the upper body, in people with COPD. Strengthening your upper body will strengthen your respiratory muscles.
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic – Exercises such as walking, jogging, or biking are phenomenal exercises that strengthen your heart and lungs, while improving your body’s ability to use oxygen effectively. With a consistent effort, aerobic exercises will also reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.

Tips to improve the effectiveness of exercise:

  • Gradually work up to your desired activity level
  • Choose an activity that you enjoy
  • Exercise at a steady pace
  • Use breathing techniques at the first sign of breathlessness
  • Keep records of your exercising
  • When exercising outside, dress appropriate for the weather

Harness the Power of Breathing Techniques

As you go through your day-to-day routine, if you suddenly experience an increase in breathlessness, there are a couple breathing techniques that you can perform that will help to reduce your shortness of breath to a manageable level. Breathing techniques include:

  • Pursed lip breathing
  • Diaphragmatic breathing

Receiving and Follow-through with Treatment

Though COPD cannot be cured, there are countless actionable treatment options that can be applied by your doctor to enhance your lifestyle, control symptoms, and reduce exacerbations. Treatment avenues that your doctor may prescribe are:

  • Bronchodilators
  • Inhaled (Corticosteroids) steroids
  • Oral (Corticosteroids) steroids
  • Combination inhalers
  • Theophylline
  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen therapy (portable or home oxygen concentrator, oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen)
  • Pulmonary rehab
  • For more severe cases, lung transplant and lung volume reduction surgery

Medication Management

You should follow your medication schedule and take prescribed medications as directed. There are numerous ways that you can set yourself up for success to ensure you are taking your medications as intended. There are a few phone apps that you can install and input your medication schedule, and a reminder on your phone will go off when it is time for each medication. A less technical method is to use a pill organizer, which will help you separate your medications by day.

You should also be aware of any new medications being prescribed and speak to your doctor to make sure that they won’t conflict with any current medications or your COPD.


Now that you have knowledge on what it takes to manage your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease like a respiratory therapist, it’s up to you to take the initiative to follow through with treatment and take control of your disease. As you have seen, with proper disease management you can travel, visit the grandkids, shop, and so much more with greater effectiveness and ease.

About the Author: Eden Coleman is a dedicated content developer for, where he pursues his passion of providing actionable and benefit-driven customer education tips for respiratory and obstructed sleep apnea (OSA) patients. Check out the latest actionable posts from the COPD Store.

A MyCOPDTeam Member said:

I like those too, but It burns on the way out!

posted 7 months ago

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