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Taking Steps to Manage COPD

Learn how to help manage the symptoms of COPD in seniors.

Taking Steps to Manage COPDChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is costly in every sense of the word. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and it accounts for $50 billion in medical spending annually. Up to 24 million Americans may be living with the disease, many of them still undiagnosed, and those who suffer from it experience a reduced quality of life and often have difficulty performing their regular daily activities. Once a person is admitted or readmitted to the hospital for COPD, he or she usually begins to experience a decline in health. Self-management of COPD is therefore crucial to enable the person to retain as much independence as possible for as long as possible.

While it may seem contrary to suggest that a person who is easily winded and may have breathing difficulties exercise regularly, studies show that exercise is a key component to managing the disease and preventing hospital admissions and readmissions. In one study of 340 patients who were followed for a year, usual physical activity accounted for a 46% reduced risk of hospital readmissions, which is good news for COPD patients.

Often people with COPD become more sedentary since increased shortness of breath may make them less willing to exert themselves. This has a domino effect, causing them to further physically decline, which in turn can cause depression. Depression can further prevent people with COPD from maintaining activity levels, which then increases the rate of physical decline. The overall effect is a greater, faster decline in health and quality of life. Exercise can not only break or inhibit that cycle, but it can also help decrease the COPD patient’s isolation since it helps the person retain mobility so they can leave their homes and engage in social activities.

Other steps COPD patients can take to help maintain their quality of life and independence include:

  • stopping smoking,
  • getting a yearly influenza vaccine,
  • working with their physicians to ensure they are receiving an adequate oxygen prescription,
  • taking their prescriptions as prescribed,
  • maintaining a healthy diet and weight,
  • and speaking with their doctors when they notice physical changes.

While COPD patients may need the intervention of medical professionals to help them treat and manage the disease, taking these small steps can go far in helping them enjoy activities and live life to the fullest.


American College of Sports Medicine. (n.d.). Exercise for persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Retrieved from

American Lung Association. (n.d.). COPD management tools. Retrieved from

Guarascio, A.J., Ray, S.M., Finch, C.K., and Self, T.H. (June 14, 2013).The clinical and economic burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the USA. ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research, 5, 235-245. doi: 10.2147/CEOR.S34321. Retrieved from

Morgan, M.D.L. (2003). Preventing hospital admissions for COPD: Role of physical activity. Thorax 58(2), 95-96. doi:10.1136/thorax.58.2.95.

World Health Organization. (October 2013). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Fact sheet N°315. Retrieved from

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