Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Energy Conservation Techniques

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Energy Conservation Techniques

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Pulmonary rehabilitation helps improve energy levels in people with COPD.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects approximately 12 million American adults. People with COPD have difficulty moving air in and out of their lungs, and tend to grow short of breath with even minor exertion. Standard treatment for COPD involves inhalers, mucus-dissolving drugs, antiinflammatory medications and oxygen. Even with these measures, however, most people with COPD experience fatigue and must seek ways to conserve energy so that they can accomplish their daily activities.

Prioritize Activities

Doctors typically advise people with COPD to perform their most physically-demanding tasks early in the day, when they have more energy. For people with severe COPD, however, even getting dressed can be time consuming and exhausting. If you grow short of breath with even minor exertion, prioritizing your activities is especially important. Decide which activities of daily living you want to tackle yourself and enlist the help of family members, friends or caregivers for everything else.

Physical Aids

Walking, stair climbing, cooking and other seemingly mundane activities can be energy-draining for people with COPD. Use of assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, can help you conserve energy while you perform some of these tasks. Walkers, in particular, can be quite useful because they provide a platform where you can rest briefly if you get short of breath.

Assistive devices must be used in moderation, however. The American Respiratory Society and the European Respiratory Society recommend daily exercise for most people living with COPD. Relying too heavily on physical aids might lead to further loss of physical conditioning. Your doctor can help you decide if you need an assistive device.


COPD places a significant demand on your respiratory muscles, increasing your need for calories. Many people with COPD do not consume enough food to compensate for their heightened energy requirements. Consequently, they are more susceptible to fatigue and often lose weight.

People with COPD can help ensure adequate nutrition by eating small frequent meals made up of a variety of foods. Fruits, vegetables and fiber should comprise a large portion of your dietary intake. According to a 2008 review in "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care," nutritional supplements containing 20 percent of their calories as protein may be beneficial. Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist to devise a diet that will improve your energy.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Although it might seem contradictory, COPD patients who exercise have better energy levels than those who are totally sedentary. A study published in the June 2012 issue of the "Journal of Thoracic Disease" demonstrated that a combination of leg and arm exercises and respiratory muscle training improved physical endurance, air flow and quality of life among people with stable COPD. Further, people who continued to exercise at home following discharge from a pulmonary rehabilitation program tended to maintain the energy level they achieved during their program. Your doctor can help you find a pulmonary rehabilitation program in your area.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease typically progresses over time and is generally considered to be irreversible. COPD is a "disease of degree" in that some people have only mild symptoms while others are severely affected and bedridden. Thus, energy-conservation techniques can range from relatively vigorous pulmonary rehabilitation programs for people with mild disease to full-time oxygen therapy for those with little remaining lung function. Each patient must consult her doctor to determine appropriate treatments.