Lifestyle Modification for COPD

  • Sophie ArundelBachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery – MBChB- University of Birmingham
  • Nika KapusheskyBa English Literature,Queen Mary University of London
  • Richa Lal MBBS, PG Anaesthesia, University of Mumbai, India

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative


COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder is a widely occurring chronic lung condition. COPD can be managed with a variety of lifestyle modifications, including smoking cessation, physical activity, and environmental adaptations. It may seem overwhelming to make all of these changes at first, but with the right support, you can make improvements. Please continue reading to explore these lifestyle modifications in more detail.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is one of the most common diseases, with approximately 3 million people affected in the UK.1,2 COPD is a chronic lung condition and it consists of two main conditions called chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is a condition with inflammation of the airway, whereas emphysema is a condition with damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lung.

The presence of these conditions means oxygen cannot be transferred as effectively and this can result in breathlessness. The most common cause of COPD is smoking and so many cases are preventable.3,4 Other causes of COPD include environmental exposure to fumes and genetic conditions such as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Many of those with COPD are not diagnosed until they present acutely with a worsening of the condition. An exacerbation can be due to environmental factors or infection and result in worsening of symptoms.5 Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Frequent infections
  • Sputum production
  • Wheeze

Diagnosis is made by spirometry, which is a test to measure the amount of air you can exhale in one go. You will be asked to breathe out as hard and fast as possible, which will provide healthcare professionals with a measurement of your lung function. This will allow them to recognise the type of lung condition you have. Additional scans such as echocardiogram and CT scan can help determine the severity of COPD and rule out other causes of breathlessness.

COPD cannot be reversed but there are many treatments to help with the progression of the disease.3 Treatment will consist of inhalers or medications that can help relax the airway to help with breathing. Along with this, lifestyle modification is extremely important to help control the symptoms of COPD. This article will focus on specifically the lifestyle modifications that can help, including:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Physical activity 
  • Nutrition
  • Vaccinations
  • Environmental adaptations
  • Health monitoring
  • Wellbeing support

Smoking cessation

Smoking is the biggest cause of COPD with over 70% of cases attributed to tobacco smoke in high-income countries. Smoking can also increase your risk of other conditions such as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Although the effects of smoking cannot be reversed, quitting smoking can help slow the progression of COPD and is therefore one of the most important lifestyle changes.1,4

Quitting smoking can be challenging but there are many resources out there to help. One can reach out to their GP who will be able to help with nicotine replacement, social support and referral to NHS Stop Smoking services. These services can provide people with one-to-one or group support to help them quit smoking for good. Additionally, there are many resources online that can help such as the NHS ‘Quit smoking’ page and the Asthma and Lung page ‘How to quit smoking’.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a formal exercise programme designed for those with respiratory conditions. Pulmonary rehabilitation is run by a range of health professionals including physiotherapists and nurses. It usually consists of 2 sessions a week for around 6-8 weeks.

Sessions will have both exercise and educational elements. The exercise parts of the session will help you become confident exercising with your respiratory condition. Exercises will also include breathing techniques to help with relaxation and sputum control. Educational advice includes how to recognise exacerbations of COPD and how to seek additional help when unwell.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is an extremely effective intervention with 90% of people having improved exercise and quality of life. Despite the benefits, currently, only the most severe cases of COPD get a referral to pulmonary rehabilitation. Patients with COPD can be referred by a nurse, GP, or respiratory team.

The NHS Long Term Plan sets out an aim to increase the number of pulmonary rehabilitation facilities available across the UK. This will allow more people to benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation services in both digital and face-to-face formats. 

Physical activity and nutrition

Physical activity and nutrition are essential to keep a healthy weight and maintain fitness.5,6 Exercise can include walking, cycling, lifting weights or swimming depending on what you enjoy the most. Exercise should be gradually increased and may need to be modified depending on your level of breathlessness.

 Pulmonary rehabilitation is a structured exercise plan aimed at people with respiratory conditions but you can also complete your exercise at home. If you need some inspiration, there are plenty of resources online including the NHS home workout videos and the Asthma and Lung exercise handbook. Additionally, exercise can help with your mental wellbeing to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

If you are overweight, losing weight through dietary changes can help with breathlessness. A healthy, balanced diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, protein and fish while keeping dairy and sugar intake lower. Drinking plenty of water and cutting down on alcohol is also useful. NHS Better Health has lots of tips and tricks on dietary changes to help you lose weight. Others with COPD may find they lose weight with excessive muscle use. In these cases, it is important to eat lots of protein. Your GP or respiratory team may refer you to a dietician for additional nutritional advice. 


It is important to stay on top of your vaccinations to help prevent you from getting unwell from infections.7 Those with COPD are eligible for a one-off pneumococcal vaccine, yearly flu vaccinations and COVID boosters under the NHS. Vaccinations allow your body to prepare to fight these infections, so if in the future you are exposed to it, the symptoms will be less severe. 

Environmental considerations

Make sure you are aware of any environmental triggers for your COPD and avoid these when possible. Some common environmental triggers include:

  • Dust 
  • Cold air
  • Humidity
  • Smoke fumes 
  • Cleaning products
  • Perfumes

It may not be obvious what triggers your symptoms and you may find it useful to keep a note of your symptoms in a symptom diary. Symptom diaries are often included in self-management plans, which are discussed below.

Health monitoring

Be proactive in your health management and ensure you get regular check-ups, monitor your symptoms and adhere to your recommended medication. A self-management plan allows you to keep all your details handy, including your diagnosis, current medication, symptom diary and advice for any acute exacerbations These can be completed together with your health professional to make sure they are personalised to your condition. If you have any new symptoms or they get worse, it is important to recognise this and seek extra help.

Wellbeing support

Living with COPD can impact your daily activities and may put stress on your ability to work or maintain relationships.7,8 It can be frustrating living with a chronic condition and may make you feel low in mood or anxious. Anxiety can also cause worsening shortness of breath, which may put you in a vicious cycle of breathlessness.

If you are feeling this way, it is important to reach out for mental health support, whether this be through your friends, family, GP, A&E or charities such as Samaritans. You may find relaxation techniques are beneficial to reduce anxiety levels. Additionally, you may find COPD support groups useful to help discuss your worries with others experiencing the same thing.

If your symptoms mean you are unable to work, you will be eligible for statutory sick pay or an employment and support allowance. If you have a family or friend helping care for you, they will be entitled to a carer's allowance. Speak with your GP if you require extra support at home and they can discuss your social support options in more detail.


Many lifestyle modifications help the symptoms of COPD including smoking cessation, recognising environmental triggers, exercise and pulmonary rehabilitation. Effective use of these techniques can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease. Healthcare professionals can help support you with smoking cessation with medication and psychological techniques. Additionally, it may be beneficial to speak with physiotherapists and nutritionists to get more guidance on exercise techniques and diet.

Self-management is crucial to ensure you are looking after both your physical and mental well-being. Recognising your symptoms can help you reach out for extra support and medications at the times you need them. 


  1. Agarwal AK, Raja A, Brown BD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Apr 16]. Available from:
  2. Kim V, Criner GJ. Chronic Bronchitis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 187(3):228–37. Available from:
  3. Bollmeier SG, Hartmann AP. Management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A review focusing on exacerbations. Am J Health Syst Pharm [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 77(4):259–68. Available from:
  4. Hogea S, Tudorache E, Fildan AP, Fira‐Mladinescu O, Marc M, Oancea C. Risk factors of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Clinical Respiratory J [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 14(3):183–97. Available from:
  5. Ambrosino N, Bertella E. Lifestyle interventions in prevention and comprehensive management of COPD. Breathe [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 14(3):186. Available from:
  6. Vaes AW, Garcia-Aymerich J, Marott JL, Benet M, Groenen MTJ, Schnohr P, et al. Changes in physical activity and all-cause mortality in COPD. European Respiratory Journal [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 44(5):1199–209. Available from:
  7. Jha S, Chandi D. Recent Advances in the Devices for the Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Review. Cureus [Internet]. [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 15(11):e49371. Available from:
  8. Vogelmeier CF, Román-Rodríguez M, Singh D, Han MK, Rodríguez-Roisin R, Ferguson GT. Goals of COPD treatment: Focus on symptoms and exacerbations. Respiratory Medicine [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Apr 16]; 166:105938. Available from:

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative
[optin-monster-inline slug="yw0fgpzdy6fjeb0bbekx"]
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Sophie Arundel

Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery – MBChB- University of Birmingham

Sophie is a Medicine graduate from the University of Birmingham. Her diverse experience in hospitals, General Practice, and care homes, has given her a strong understanding of healthcare challenges and a drive to improve the efficiency of care. She is enthusiastic about using patient-lived experiences to understand barriers in care and empower communities to better manage their health. Sophie is passionate about developing a career in Public Health to reduce healthcare inequalities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818