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COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

What can you do to manage your COPD?

There’s a lot you can do to manage your COPD and make a big difference to your quality of life. On this page find out what you can do to self-manage your COPD at home. 

You can do a lot to help manage your condition yourself. Knowing all you can about your condition, your symptoms, your medications and how to cope with flare-ups will make your day-to-day life easier.   

On this page find out the benefits of:  

Remember - if you smoke, stopping smoking is the best thing you can do.  

“If you have a lung condition, you can’t sit around and wait for other people to take care of you – you need to take care of yourself! I fully believe you get out of it what you put in” Peter

Keeping active

If you have COPD, being active and exercising can help you to improve your breathing, fitness and quality of life. It can also make you feel better, by improving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Keeping active can make a big difference – many people find this helps them more than inhaled drugs.  

The best way to learn how to exercise at the right level for you is to take part in pulmonary rehabilitation. Ask your doctor to refer you.

Don’t avoid activities that make you breathless: you’ll get less fit and out of breath more easily.  Regular exercise can help reverse this by strengthening your muscles. Exercise also benefits your heart and blood pressure and makes you less likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis (fragile bone disease).  

There is strong evidence that people with COPD benefit from PR and exercise more generally. Remember: it’s not harmful to get breathless when you’re exercising! 

There are lots of ways to be active – find one you might enjoy! We have ideas in our keep active information, as well as our Stay Active, Stay Well exercise videos, and our exercise handbook.

Controlling your breathing

There are techniques and positions that can help you feel more in control of your breathing and cope when you get out of breath.    

If you practise breathing techniques and use them every day, they’ll help you when you’re active or if you suddenly feel short of breath. Try different breathing techniques to find what helps you. There are also positions that can help you to practise breathing control or to control your breathing when you get breathless. Talk to your respiratory physiotherapist or nurse to find out what works for you. We have plenty of information on how to manage and live well with breathlessness.

Some people with COPD who joined a singing group said singing helped them to manage their breathing and other symptoms better. Read our information on singing for lung health to find out more.

Have a self-management plan

Self-managing your condition – with support from others – helps to give you control. It helps to know all about your condition, your symptoms, your medication and how to cope with flare-ups. It also makes your day-to-day life easier and could reduce the risk of needing to go into hospital.

It’s important you have a plan to help you manage your COPD that’s agreed with your doctor or nurse and reviewed every year. You can download a free copy of a self-management plan on our website.

Eating well and keeping a healthy weight

It’s important to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor or nurse can help you to work out what your healthy weight should be and can refer you to a dietician or local scheme to help you if necessary.

  • If you’re overweight, it will be harder for you to breathe and move around.
  • If you’re losing too much weight because eating makes you feel breathless, or you find it difficult to shop and prepare meals, try to eat little and often. Ask your doctor or nurse about nutritional supplements. 

Read more information on eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and how your diet can affect your symptoms.

Take care of your emotional wellbeing

Living with a long-term condition can affect many aspects of your life. Physical symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing, feeling more tired and being less active can mean you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. 

The risk of anxiety and depression is greater in people with more severe COPD, people who have been admitted to hospital, and those with low oxygen levels. 

Treatment and support is available to help you. Anxiety and depression are both understandable reactions to living with a long-term condition like COPD. Talk to your health care professional about counselling and medications. 

Don’t bottle things up – talking to someone you trust, including your health care professional, can help. It’s very important to stay active and sociable and to learn more about COPD. This will help you to understand and cope better with your condition. 

You might want to get involved with a local support group to meet others going through a similar experience, or join our online community.

Have a look at our information about looking after your mental health.

Our support groups are for people living with a lung condition and their families. It’s a great way to get more information and make new friends. To find your local group, go to our website or call our helpline on 0300 222 5800.

What else can I do to manage my COPD better?

Sleep and rest

Make sure you sleep well and get enough rest every day. This will help with your energy levels. For advice about how to get a good night’s sleep, have a look at the NHS website. Talk to your health care professional if that doesn’t help.

Ask for help if you need it

Ask your health care professional about ways you can adapt your home to help you move around more easily. An occupational therapist and your local council can help you with this.

Know your symptoms

Be aware of your regular symptoms and what is normal for you.

If your ankles swell, tell your health care professional as this could be a sign of advancing COPD. Medicines can help reduce this, as well as things that you can do at home. But many people with COPD have other conditions, and leg swelling or a rapid heartbeat can be a sign of a heart condition.

Sex and COPD

Having an illness like COPD can affect your relationships. It can make you feel tired, anxious or depressed. You might worry about sex if you are afraid that you will become too short of breath or need to cough up phlegm (mucus). 

Your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist can help you to manage this. Read more about sex and breathlessness.

Financial help

Just having a long-term lung condition, like COPD, doesn’t entitle you to benefits. However, you may still be eligible to claim financial support. Or, if you have a carer, they may be able to claim benefits like respite care. Find out more in our welfare benefits information.

Plan ahead

It’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse about longer-term treatments and advance care planning. This means thinking about what you would like to happen if your condition gets worse, or you experience more severe flare-ups, to help your family and your doctor to understand your wishes. Read more information on advance care planning and taking control of your choices.

Looking after someone with COPD

When someone close to you has COPD and needs your support, it is natural to want to help them. If you look after someone you might feel anxious, frustrated or stressed. These emotions are normal. Talk about your worries with the person you care for, with their COPD specialist team, or family and friends.

If you care for a family member or partner, it is important to continue to enjoy things together and for the person with COPD to keep as active and independent as they can. Read our more detailed information for carers.

Next: Managing COPD flare-ups 

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: May 2022. Due for review: May 2025

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.